Friday, April 29, 2016

Dorrance Dance in ETM: Double Down

Demi Remick, Caleb Teicher and Warren Craft. Photo: Jamie Kraus
Forgive me, tap purists, but I often find tap dance performances like homework. Sure, I can appreciate the intricate rhythms made by the feet, but the shows can veer from outright show-biz to introverted, or to contained throw-downs between two dancers onstage. So along comes Michelle Dorrance and her skilled troupe of hoofers, with collaborator Nicholas Van Young, whose ETM—electronic tap music—helps craft a fully integrated, entertaining program of varied dynamics and segments, called ETM: Double Down, at the Joyce through this weekend.

Michelle Dorrance. Photo: Christopher Duggan
ETM refers to a set of primitive looking foot-square platforms connected by cables—like a giant octopus that morphs around the stage, its tentacles shifting so as to hang onto its prey. The dancers pick up the devices and move them, and then trigger their programmed sounds with their toes, as if hitting a piano key. (The motion reminds me of Tom Hanks in Big!, when he goes bonkers on the giant piano keyboard.) The emitted sounds evoke the xylophone, bells, chimes, piano, and are supplemented by an onstage band on drums, standing and electric bass, keyboard, and in the second half, soulful vocals by Aaron Marcellus.

Each segment varies in dynamics, so there are plenty of quiet moments mixed in with the more physical tap numbers. Dorrance's diverse and multi-skilled company includes Nicholas Van Young, Byron Tittle, Caleb Teicher, Leonardo Sandoval, Warren Craft, Elizabeth Burke, and Ephrat Asherlie (who performs b-moves in sneakers). They frequently work together incredibly intricately—at moments, each dancer plays one note in a musical phrase. A number featured larger platforms with metal grids on one side, against which the dancers scraped their shoe plates for a unique sound. Dropped link chains added a cascading thudding sound.

Dorrance's stage invention emerges in the way she situates or works a group of dancers around a soloist—in a traveling semicircle, with the chorus' backs to the featured dancer, or upstage on varied-level platforms, mingling with the band members. Her personal tap style is focused, her body somewhat contracted, with exaggerated knee lifts to precisely place each tap. Each of her company members has her/his own flair, but they work seamlessly as a team to realize some fascinating ideas that expand the art of tap.   

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Anything but Empty Moves

Photo: Jean-Claude Carbonne
If you stripped away the soundtrack for Angelin Preljocaj's Empty Moves Parts I, II & III—John Cage's Empty Words—it would still be constitute an immensely gratifying experience. The movement that the French choreographer created for this 1:45 work is jammed full of modern dance invention and exploration into the possibilities of the human body times four. It was performed at the Joyce by Nuriya Magimova, Baptiste Coissieu, Yurié Tsugawa, and Fabrizio Clemente (the latter two performed parts I & II at BAM in 2010), to a recording of Cage's 1977 Milan performance, at which the audience members at his 1977 reading essentially staged a revolt while Cage serenely reads his deconstruction of Thoreau's text. They shouted, clapped, stamped, and howled in protest.

Preljocaj's choreography is only nominally linked to the Cage score, most notably in part III when some of the dancers' rhythms mirror the riotous clapping. For most of the work, there's great tension between the movement onstage and the mental action summoned by the aural anarchy. The impact of the sound is so mentally powerful, however, that many Joyce viewers were compelled to walk out, despite the rewarding dance taking place. Or perhaps they were expecting to see ballet.
Photo: Jean-Claude Carbonne

That said, the choreographer often works in the classical ballet lexicon, and many of the works seen in New York, particularly at BAM, tend to have elaborate sets and are composed of many sections which vary in narrative and dynamic. Empty Moves departs from what I have seen of Preljocaj's work, to the extent that it seems that quite another person created it. It feels rooted in the structure and approach of Merce Cunningham, with whom Preljocaj studied, further underscored by the use of a score by Cage, Cunningham's life partner. 

The several measures of movement that form the opening section act as a kind of reset button between parts, augmented from the second repeat on with a bottle of much deserved water passed among the dancers. But for the most part, the movement does not repeat, nor is it of a common canon. It is made on specific bodies so closely interlinked and dependent that after a time they seem to move as one large organism. Experiments with cause and effect, gravity, and geometry are endlessly explored. An occasional emotional reaction or humorous gesture warms the proceedings, which can come across as nearly scientific in their procedural pace and exhaustive depth.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance — A Platform Tilts

Michael Trusnovec and Parisa Khobdeh in Polaris. Photo: Paul B. Goode
What Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance is attempting to do—recognize gems of modern dance and commissioning new work, while staging a regular season of Taylor's dances—is still in its infancy, but this season, some strong threads emerged, at times interweaving the performed works. A nod to Martha Graham came with the Taylor dancers performing her Diversion of Angels, and essential modern vocabulary evoking her style (for which Taylor was a paradigm) popped up in rep. And the new external commissions nodded at Taylor's influence, particularly by the classic Esplanade, which was performed as well. 

It bears repeating—PTAMD's annual three-week New York season remains one of the perennial protean feats of dance. The dancers are heroic—obviously in a physical sense, performing 20 dances—but mentally, keeping all that repertory fresh and at the ready. In the city, even the country or world, perhaps only New York City Ballet and ABT can compare, breadth-wise. But those are much larger troupes, dozens and dozens of dancers, rather than a spare 16. The Orchestra of St. Lukes provided vibrant live music for much of the repertory, under the direction of Donald York, a longtime company collaborator. 

PTAMD's 2016 three-week Koch Theater season added for the company the twists of two external choreographer premieres, plus two Taylor premieres and the performance of a Graham dance. (Dayton Contemporary Dance Company also performed Donald McKayle's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder from 1959.) Because the Elkins used vocabulary new to the company, there was most likely not enough time for the dancers to become fluent in the quirky style, which derives directly from his body. Keigwin's Rush Hour was ultimately in a more polished state, simply because Larry's style is more forgiving. This also has been demonstrated, with great success, in his dances for crowds, including non-dancers. As for the Elkins, my hope is that if—when—The Weight of Smoke is performed again by PTAMD, then Doug will spend time with the dancers in workshops and rehearsals to immerse them in his brand of movement.

Spindrift, featuring Michael Trusnovec (with a cast from a previous season, including
Michelle Fleet, Annmaria Mazzini and Rob Kleinendorst). Photo: Paul B. Goode
 
Casts for Esplanade (1975) rotated within a season for the first time in memory, keeping it fresh and giving repeat viewers some added interest. George Smallwood hops with smart snap; Rob Kleinendorst takes over the spot that Michael Trusnovec has been dancing for several years, which includes a duet with the ever silky Eran Bugge in which she walks on his stomach and legs. In this season, as noted, it takes on great prominence as a source work for the external commissions, as both Keigwin and Elkins have acknowledged its influence, which can be traced through their respective premieres.

Original costumes for Mercuric Tidings (1982) have returned—hot pink and white ombre instead of royal blue, giving the devilishly difficult dance a warmer and lighter feel. They don't change the crisp pace or crystalline structure, punctuated by artful tableaux. Polaris (1976) remains one of Taylor's most conceptually intriguing dances, with its movement repeated with different music and lighting (music by York, reconceived this year; designs by Alex Katz). Is the movement in part two actually more aggressive, or is it the music and the moodier lighting making it feel so? Questions of memory and perception abound, and the way in which dancers replace one another one-by-one feels like a parable of the slowly-phasing makeup of the company.

Spindrift (1993) parallels Beloved Renegade (2008) in that Trusnovec stars as an outsider—in this case, a stranger who perhaps washed ashore, speaking a different movement language than the natives. He crawls like a footless tadpole, wending between all of the dancers' legs. For this piece, Taylor struck a particularly inventive, quirky vein; for Trusnovec, repeated crossing of limbs and pivots on the knee, for the chorus, funny frog-like jumps and leaps. The movement generally evokes the animal world, replete with its naivete and sweet curiosity. In another precursor to Renegade, Laura Halzack breezes on and off periodically, a kind of spirit keeping watch over the interloper, who is eventually welcomed into the fold.

Madelyn Ho and Michael Apuzzo in Sullivaniana. Photo: Paul B. Goode
In a solo, Trusnovec does a slow pirouette and unfolds a leg with his torso tipped back, arms in a vee. It is reminiscent of Aureole, and of Martha Graham, whose Diversion of Angels the Taylor company performed this season. The Graham is a natural fit, and these dancers feel more relaxed than the Graham company, which seems to value tension as a tool. It's also the first instance of the Taylor company dancing a classic work not by Taylor, alongside the season's two premieres by working external choreographers. But many of Taylor's dancers could step right into the Graham Company and be fine. Khobdeh, in particular, is radiant in a red gown and long hair, but it's her dynamism and gutsy tilts that are so affecting. 

Taylor's second season premiere is Sullivaniana, a nostalgic theatrical piece set inside a lit proscenium (designs by Loquasto), indicating a show-within-a-show. The women wear brightly colored flouncy dresses and character shoes, the men gaudy three-piece plaid suits and bowlers. The first part features missed meetings and lonely singles; new company member Madelyn Ho looks beyond the stage for company. (This polished, petite dancer adds another twist to potential lift choreography; she is light enough for the company's strongman, Kleinendorst, to do a one-handed press with her.) Eventually dancers pair off, which quickly leads to an impromptu (if still decorous) orgy mid-stage, before things wind down as they began, with Ho alone. It speaks to a recurring theme in Taylor's repertory, of the restless beast lurking beneath social niceties. The music, by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and), comprises largely bright orchestral arrangements including some familiar, and less so, sections.

Rush Hour. Photo: Paul B. Goode
The second external commission is by Larry Keigwin, who is adept at moving large groups of people in organized, intricate ways. Rush Hour is no exception, in which all 16 dancers cross the stage with urgency, intersecting paths, spinning, and interacting with others. Running is a staple, echoing Esplanade. But the overall feel is urban modern, with gray and black leotards by Fritz Masten, and chiaroscuro, misty lighting by Clifton Taylor, to a filmic score by Adam Crystal. Unlike Elkins' quirky melange of steps, Keigwin's vocabulary is more straight forward, and looks more at ease on the Taylor dancers, who are sleek and cool in a way we've not seen before. Both of these dances also evoke a look and feel that Taylor would most likely not create, and in that sense, they work to complement the repertory. 

Profiles (1979) returned. It is unique—a quartet (Trusnovec, Halzack, Michael Novak, Bugge) that is shorter in length than most of the rep, and is thus paired in an act with a polar opposite, the vaudevillean Snow White (1985). Profile's two pairs appear heroic in the choreographer's "flat" style that resembles figures on a Greek urn. The movement is slow, deliberate, and muscular, with inhuman assisted springs by the woman to the man's shoulder and chest. Hands form fists until the final moment, when Halzack uncurls her fist and places her flat hand on Trusnovec's proferred palm. It's a heart-stopping gesture to close a quiet, powerful dance.

Trusnovec, always magnificent and stronger than ever, returned as the lead in Promethean Fire (2002), with Parisa Khobdeh. While some of the elegiac depth with which it was imbued at its premiere, shortly after 9/11, has faded with distance (as has, it should be said, our raw sensitivity to the massacre), it remains a profoundly moving work that contains a few gestural passages that remind us of its timestamp. In one, Kleinendorst hoists Bugge overhead, paralleling ascension, and in another, salvation, when Trusnovec rescues Khobdeh from a heap of bodies. This gesture takes on the specifics of a relationship, besides making a general statement of survival and rebirth. Another factor of the dance's power is the music, by JS Bach. It's seriousness and pomposity have made it fodder for satire. But paired with the velvet-clad, interweaving bodies of the dancers, and magnificent crescendos and quiet moments, it finds its match in gravitas and elegy.

Orbs. Photo: Paul B. Goode
The repertory included Orbs (1966), an oddity in form (a two-act dance) to music by Beethoven, whose first-act costumes (Alex Katz) resemble Star Trek uniforms plus suave pleated, butter-hued gowns for the women, and in act two, prim wedding garb. The dance wends its way through planetary seasons and earthly rituals, including a marriage, overseen by Sean Mahoney representing a double-faced Sun and a priest. Katz's elegant gold arc shifts positions throughout. As with so many of Taylor's dances, this feels hermetic—delineating a world of its own, with a community coming together and breaking apart.

All the major and minor shifts mean dimensional growth for the repertory and for the dancers. They handled these challenges with aplomb; one wonders how much more they could manage. Perhaps future seasons will furnish even more tests as the platform of PTAMD continues to define, and redefine, modern dance.   

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance week one premieres—Surface, and what lies beneath

Eran Bugge, Rob Kleinendorst, and Michelle Fleet in Dilly Dilly. Photo: Paul B. Goode
On its surface, one of Paul Taylor's New York season premieres, Dilly Dilly, seems to be a charming, nostalgic view of Western rites and social pleasures. All of the participants—in Stetsons, colored tops, and black daisy dukes (the gals) or jeans (the guys)—flirt and eye one another while square dancing, or playing innocently, imitating horses. A chorus might stand in a line, framing a central pair or solo before exiting, such as Rob Kleinendorst as he's harangued by one or more "Blue Tail Fly," as the song depicts—women rubbing their palms together like insect antennae. 

For such an outwardly cheerful dance, set to folk songs sung by Burl Ives, a lot of people wind up blotto. They are victims of what might be termed "domestic violence," lovers facing the consequences of embroiled emotions. T
o "Frankie and Johnny," the song title's characters pair up with others, leaving Johnny (Michael Trusnovec) plum dead.The hats and cowpoke posturing give subterfuge to fatal actions, resulting from the presence of passion and guns. It has echoes of current events—the recent takeover of federal land in Oregon, with its protagonists brandishing the requisite equipment plus a lot of martyr-like bluster and swagger, or random shootings that wouldn't have happened without the presence of a gun.

The dance is set before a vast painted backdrop by Santo Loquasto (who also designed the costumes) of angular, abstract shapes on a yellow background. It seems to have little to do with the rest of the dance's pieces, but the objects appear to hang ominously over the dancers, threatening to ruin a typical night of fun and fatality. (The title derives from "delightful.") The finale is a perfect cheerleader style pyramid, an example of one of the tableaux at which Taylor excels, and the presumed subject of the accompanying song, "The Big Rock Candy Mountain." The movement in Dilly is as much storytelling as dance, and it's simple, clear, and fresh. There's a quiet and spaciousness, even anomie, to the tone and look of the dance that add to its distinctly American feel. 

In Dilly, as in many of Taylor's "social dance" works (among them, Marathon Cadenzas, Piazzolla Caldera, Cloven Kingdom, even Big Bertha, to an extent), the premise of social dancing serves not only as movement source material and cultural context, but also as a structure for the more bestial behavior that simmers, then boils over the confines of accepted rituals, or just plain consumes them. 

Heather McGinley and Parisa Khobdeh in The Weight of Smoke. Photo: Paul B. Goode
There is that premiere (one of two new works by Taylor for this company this season), and then there is another brand altogether: The Weight of Smoke, by Doug Elkins, to Handel/beat mix by Justin Levine/Matt Stine that at moments recalled the music for Cloven Kingdom. It's the first commission by an outside choreographer set on the Taylor company. It's kind of a revolutionary idea, as this troupe has been so keenly devoted to one man's vision for more than 60 years, even as members come and go with time. Their bodies are instruments finely tuned to one key, so to see them stretch their legs is a bit shocking. Touches of hip-hop—rippling torsos, turtle spins—are sprinkled throughout. In the partnering section, the couples lock lips and proceed through several phrases that way; Heather McGinley and Parisa Khobdeh outlast the three other pairs. 

It's no surprise that Elkins refrained from using the more extreme hip-hop moves that he employs on his own company; these can be the most memorable moments of his dances, and so what's left feels less distinctive. The Taylor dancers could also use a bit more time finding the rubbery looseness, sometimes even awkwardness, that grounds his uncodified style. He mentioned in a talk about the commission earlier this year that he aimed to nod at the physicality, flat style, and partnering in Taylor's choreography. In the absence of a clear narrative, it is helpful to know this to give some mental shape to the dance while watching.

The stage didn't truly become electric until the very end, when three men vogued, moving downstage and anchored by Michael Novak. The dancers seemed to suddenly wield the power of their physicality in a different way—no holds barred, aiming to dazzle as if dancing at a club. It contrasted with the dance's more introspective earlier sections. Appropriately, it also seemed to pick up the social dance thread left dangling by Dilly Dilly.

Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance continues through April 3 at the Koch Theater. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Recycling at its Best—The Met Breuer

Van Eyck, Saint Barbara, 1437. Metalpoint, brush drawing, oil on wood.
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen 
Emerging onto the fourth floor of the Unfinished: Thoughts Made Visible, in the newly opened Met Breuer (the old Whitney building on Madison), at first feels like coming home. By habit, I turned left, and saw a jade-green series by Cy Twombly, which felt organic in the space. Past a partition dividing the main space, is a beautifully installed room of sculptures. Here, a study of hands by Louise Bourgeois sits near The Hand of God by Rodin. 
Paul Cézanne. Gardanne, 1885-86, oil on canvas.
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Franz H. Hirschland, 195
Of course I had gone through the show backwards, from most recent to earliest works. So from then on, things only became more surreal, with true old masters next to 20th-century ones. Blue chippers like De Kooning, Manet, Cézanne, and Van Gogh are relative newcomers compared to Renaissance and early luminaries such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Van Eyck. The plenitude of heavy hitters is almost comical, as if it was a fictional Museum—like the Met—only not the Met.

Unfinished Thoughts is the result of the work of several of the Met's curators, and includes not only art from its collection, but on loan from collections around the world, a reflection of its institutional power. It's the perfect kind of catch-all theme that can cross centuries and media, which this show does. It showcases not only incomplete works, but those made intentionally obscure or mysterious, or—as in Andy Warhol's Do It Yourself (Violin), a paint-by-numbers canvas, inherent to its subject matter. 


Unfinished: Thoughts Made Visible, fourth floor. Courtesy Met Museum
In recent days there has been a lot of coverage not only of this exhibition, but of the justifiability of the Met in leasing the Breuer for eight years at a fairly large cost. One obvious reason—because it was there. It's a wonderful building that shows art beautifully, and the materials with which it is built are richly textured, mostly natural materials, or concrete. While not perfect—the sunken courtyard never seems welcoming, more a defensive moat—but the human scale of, say, the staircase, makes a mundane task pleasurable. Clearly, by naming the repurposed building after its architect, the Met is acknowledging its importance.


Louise Bourgeois. Untitled (No. 2), 1996, pink
marble on steel base.

Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth

Auguste Rodin, The Hand of God, 1907, marble.                 
Gift of Edward D. Adams, 1908 
It also extends the Met's ability to showcase contemporary art, as it has done with its dedicated second floor to the work of Nasreen Mohamedi (1937—1990), an Indian artist who focused on abstraction. It's powerful support for an artist who had never before received a solo New York museum show. The delicacy and system-based approach of her work is, however, quite overshadowed by the big guns upstairs.

In the ground-floor gallery, Vijay Iyer, on piano, played with saxophonist Mark Turner. It was a taste of an 18-day residency by the composer, whose live performances will be interspersed with guest turns by other artists and recorded events and films. Iyer will also give performances which relate to the Mohamedi exhibition.

Andy Warhol. Do It Yourself (Violin), 1962, synthetic polymer paint and Prestype on canvas. Private collection.
The Met Breuer brings to mind recent expansions of two other New York art institutions—MoMA and the Whitney. Both have enlarged their premises to accommodate a boom in tourism, and have accordingly become perhaps less appealing to New Yorkers, at least this one. MoMA's terrifying atrium may create a forum for unprecedentedly large-scale works and performances, but it's soul sucking. And the Whitney's open arms policy, with its outdoor staircase and terraces and direct access from the Highline, has conflated it in my mind with the Meatpacking District and the unpleasant overcrowding of the Highline.

Sacre bleu!
The Breuer opening roughly coincides with the debut of a new logo for the Met, which has received mixed reviews. It's kind of hilarious that a logo—albeit one that must have withstood the scrutiny of hundreds of pairs of eyeballs—has summoned such vitriol and attention. But it shows you how possessive New Yorkers are of this keystone institution.

The Met itself is so immense that it can absorb thousands of people, with crowding only in special exhibitions. But the Breuer might also fall prey to its own popularity, particularly with such well-known artists on view. Still, it's a welcome outpost for the city's biggest museum, which is pedaling furiously to catch up to its more modern contemporaries, and just made up a lot of time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Stephen Petronio's Bloodlines—Acknowledging Trisha Brown

Glacial Decoy. Photo: Sarah Silver
It's hard to believe that Stephen Petronio founded his company 32 years ago. While he has always sought out collaborations with trending artists and designers, his movement invention has eluded any timestamp. It no doubt helped that many of the previous generation's choreographers themselves innovated new languages and concepts—many of whom are acknowledged in Petronio's Bloodlines project. Petronio absorbed influences from these predecessors, rather than utilizing a codified language such as ballet or jazz as exemplified in Alvin Ailey's work.

Stephen Petronio Company embarks on the second installment of Bloodlines from March 8—13 at the Joyce Theater. Of the several "heritage projects" underway in the world of modern dance, including variants from Martha Graham and Paul Taylor, Bloodlines is the most integrated and logical. It's perhaps because Petronio is honoring work by those he has considered mentors or influences on his own, rather than the other way around. 

This year, his company will dance Glacial Decoy (1979) by Trisha Brown, with whom he danced from 1979—1986 before forming his own troupe. With sets and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg, it is one of the landmark works of Brown's considerable choreographic output, and is danced by a female cast. Since Petronio's own movement was influenced by his work with Brown, it will be fascinating to see the keen combined muscular knowledge of the dancers.

Middlesex Gorge. Photo: Sarah Silver
From Petronio's repertory, Middlesex Gorge (1990) will be performed 25 years after it premiered. To music by Wire, with costumes by H. Petal, this dance, with movement both urgent and highly collaborative, takes impetus from the choreographer's late 1980s involvement in ACT UP. This highly effective organization formed to draw attention to AIDS, the pandemic that devastated, in particular, the arts community.

Petronio's new work this season is Big Daddy (Deluxe), based on thoughts about his father from his recent memoir, Confessions of a Motion Addict. The dance began as a solo which debuted at the American Dance Festival in 2014, and here is expanded to a group dance, to music by Son Lux, with costumes by H. Petal, and lighting by Petronio's longtime collaborator, Ken Tabachnik. The dance offers a new personal note on a smart program balanced with movement heritage and company history.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Most Incredible Thing—Abundantly Stuffed

Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley lead the company in The Most Incredible Thing. Photo: Paul Kolnik
With The Most Incredible Thing, Justin Peck has been given the opportunity by New York City Ballet to push himself far beyond what he's accomplished thus far in his still young choreographic career. This 45-minute ballet, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fable, is his first attempt at narrative. It has a widely rambling score by the National's Bryce Dessner, and visuals and costumes by Marcel Dzama, and a cast of 56.

If it sounds like a lot to keep organized, it is, and that is one of the main issues with this ballet. The format—12 short sections, in accordance with the hours of a clock—are bookended by scenes depicting a competition between the Creator (Taylor Stanley) and the Destroyer (Amar Ramasar) for the Princess' (Sterling Hyltin) hand. As you might guess, each of the 12 dances is (mostly) populated by an according number of dancers; it begins to feel like sitting through the carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas," a checklist of tasks that need to happen for us to reach the end.
Rebecca Krohn and Adrian Danchig-Waring as Eve & Adam. Photo: Paul Kolnik
This isn't to deny observed degrees of invention. Dzama's costumes look rich—creatively, but also cost-wise—with lavish attention to detail. The two-man king walks as if in a three-legged sack race, but then splits in half like a gate to safeguard, or release, the princess. The Cuckoo's wings look like actual feathered wings, although this elaborate costume may have weighed down the spritely and typically steadfast Megan Fairchild (in the cast I saw) as she hammered through the too-rapid allegro steps, at one point slipping. Even birds fall.

The most dazzling and effective costumes were given to the Nine Muses—tutus with black spirals, and The Seven Deadly Sins or The Seven Days of the week (the name/s alone indicate the kitchen sink ethos), who wore flame-hued, patterned unitards. Poor Daniel Ulbricht, as The Gambler, was outfitted in a domino-patterned horizontal tablecloth and bare legs. Adam and Eve (Adrian Danchig-Waring and Rebecca Krohn) pulled off flesh-toned unitards scattered with leaves, and danced one of the more stately and fluid duets, ending with a bite of forbidden fruit. Three Kings were the unrecognizable Jared Angle, Daniel Applebaum, and Gonzalo Garcia, under samurai-like metallic armor. And 11 adorable children sported Hershey Kiss-shaped tunics and silver leather shoes. (As they tossed silver confetti in the air, I could only think that it might have reminded fellow audience member Mark Morris about his own Waltz of the Snowflakes in The Hard Nut.)


The Seven Deadly Sins, or The Seven Days of the Week. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Oh, about the dance itself, which feels like an afterthought—one of the problems with such an encrusted production. Stanley is perfectly cast, a valiant prince worthy of his dashing red cape, moving with a proud athleticism, sternum forward at all times. As he contracts slightly, his arms cushion pillows of air; he whips his leg in slashing arcs, eating up space. Hyltin's role isn't very memorable, but she pairs well with Stanley. Ramasar, who only appears at the end, has fun with his club, cartoonishly whacking and stabbing any nearby dancer. The three kings carry horse-headed staffs and incorporate them in various moves.

The carnivalesque atmosphere is enhanced by two slides—like you'd find at a playground—down which several dancers enter throughout the ballet. Dzama's painted flats evoke a kind of Weimar-era garish noir; his art is also installed in the Koch's grand atrium, giving the Park Avenue Armory's jarring installations some competition.

In recent years, Dessner has experimented beyond his rock band roots into classical and opera-esque evenings, but in Most Incredible Thing, it feels as if he deferred heavily to the movement and visuals. Surging chords and xylophones, medieval clarinet lines, mellow, lyrical swells, Glass-ian shimmers, and propulsive beats are thrown in the overwhelming mix. It didn't help that the premiere capped an already long evening of last year's fashion gala premieres plus Chris Wheeldon's 2010 Estancia, as much musical-theater as dance, and indicative of his now proven sure hand at Broadway.