Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tanowitz and Eifman: Ballet's Opposite Poles

Ashley Tuttle & John Heginbotham in Blue Ballet. Photo: Paula Court
Pam Tanowitz combines a rigorous formal study with the essential pleasures of ballet in Untitled (The Blue Ballet) at The Kitchen last week. It’s a complicated push/pull in part due to the ascetic Morton Feldman score (String Quartet #1, played live by FLUX Quartet) that incorporates as much quiet as sound. And while Tanowitz has pared down the movement in kind, the essence that remains is poetic and elegant, particularly when done by Ashley Tuttle, a storied ballerina who danced with ABT and then with Twyla Tharp on Broadway. I can’t imagine the work looking better on anyone else, between her polished technique and her mature bearing that manages to look both innocent and all-knowing.

Not that the rest of the ensemble’s members are slackers: Brian Reeder, who danced with NYCB and choreographs now; Sasha Dmochowksi, late of ABT; Jean Freebury, a Merce Cunningham alum; and John Heginbotham, of Mark Morris Dance Group. Clad in pewter, they orbit around Tuttle, in blue, who is onstage the entire time as the rest come and go, checking in with her. There are short bursts of energy—leaps, lifts in splits, a charmingly awkward social dance—and intricate, knotty, interdependent trios. Each pose carries as much weight as the entire dance, particularly when done by Tuttle; she ensures her foot is perfectly pointed, the angle of her body in a slant to the exact degree; her head tilted just so, and we can read every last finishing touch.

Heginbotham adds a roguish air to his phrases, which are more comedic and animalistic;  Dmochowski brings a professional lustre and impeccable line; Reeder, solidity and gravitas. While the overall tone is concentrated and serious, there are moments of levity. Tuttle rests on the floor, her arms arrayed like a cat preparing to pounce, as two other dancers hover over her. Heginbotham dances as she watches with something like concern or jealousy, a pout about to break over her face. Then all the dancers line up downstage and spin while keeping us in their sights as long as possible (akin to “spotting” in ballet turns), mirroring our fascinated, unwavering gaze.


In a polar opposite rendition of ballet (and grouped here by coincidental timing), Boris Eifman’s Rodin was presented at City Center. Rather than focusing on the form itself, ballet is merely a vehicle used to tell another in a string of angst-ridden stories, usually taken from the biographical or fiction canon, involving a romantic triangle, to a pastiche of cliched classical music. But the reasons to follow Eifman’s oeuvre were in evidence in Rodin. Watching a cluster of flesh come to life as Rodin’s Burghers of Calais was really pretty cool, or his Gates of Hell. The analogy of a sculptor bringing base material to life translates glibly, if a bit uneasily, to that of the choreographer/dancer, especially when they're called upon to strip to their skivvies and bend their limbs into painful-looking poses, putty in another's hands. 

Eifman may not be interested in choreographing logical, pleasing balletic paragraphs, but he collects dancers whose long limbs and flexible arches can contort into the shapes he equates with every emotion in the book. He can do fun, goofy stuff with large groups, in this case, a grape harvest festival and a Can-Can dance hall, and for a change, one of the women is also a tortured artist rather than a role-player in support of the male (Rodin is danced by Oleg Gabyshev, with the lithe Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille). And he is one of the few choreographers who makes new full-length story ballets (along with John Neumeier) on such subject matter, a taste that is being cultivated outside of New York. If only one tortured artist portrait didn’t conflate with the next.
Susan Yung

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