Saturday, November 1, 2014

BalletCollective—A True Collaboration Evolves

Troy Schumacher and Ashley Laracey in Dear and BlackbirdsPhoto: Matthew Murphy
Collaboration is frequently used to describe the performance creation process, even if it's simply the gathering of disciplines in a studio or theater. But BalletCollective, under Troy Schumacher's direction, employs the sharing process from the genesis of a dance. Taking a poem or artwork as a source, the composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone writes music, and then Schumacher choreographs. (For more, read Marina Harss' recent NYT article on the process.) They riff on evocations or inspiration, and not literal interpretations. The underlying structure supports the piece, giving it an inner vitality that sets it apart from many of the handsome, but essentially formalist, ballets that have been made lately. (I should add that it's possible such sources have been used to create those ballets, but they are not presented as prominently as this.) 

The company, comprising New York City Ballet dancers, premiered All That We See at the Skirball this past week. Ludwig-Leone and Schumacher worked with artist David Salle, who showed fragments of a larger painting to the pair, waiting until the piece had been completed to reveal the whole picture, which we never see (although the beautiful poster/program shows the details from which they worked, including a pot of coffee and a bitten ice cream bar). The music and dance took form in response to "structure, line, and emotional response" rather than image or narrative. This process is fascinating to learn about, but not essential to viewing. The work's multi-sections shift in tone and dynamic, from Taylor Stanley's taut, snapping lines, to Meagan Mann's lushness, to Claire Kretzschmar's angular elegance. Ludwig-Leone's music, played live by the ensemble Hotel Elefant, ranges from energetic to jazzy to contemplative.

There's always a sense of community in the company's works, akin to many of Jerome Robbins' dances; the simple act of placing one dancer near another instigates an emotional relationship. In a larger group—five in this dance—that can mean that Stanley and David Prottas partner Lauren King at the same time, or one another. The chemistry blends, clashes, flows, but rarely simply paints a pretty picture.
Claire Kretzschmar in All That We Seer.
Photo: Matthew Murphy

The relationship is more straightforward in Dear and Blackbirds, a duet choreographed for Ashley Laracey and Harrison Coll (as seen in this video), who unfortunately was injured and, fortunately, replaced by Schumacher in the performances (he and Laracey are married). He pursues her, she resists, succumbs, and has to coax him back after spurning him. It's sweet, playful, and conveys the boundless joy, and vexing melodrama, of young romance. One of them performs a ballet phrase, then stops to react or gesture. The varying expressiveness of the vocabulary is bound into the narrative.

The Impulse Wants Company (2013, performed at the Joyce last year) led off the bill, another dance using poetry by Cynthia Zarin as a source of inspiration. The seven dancers cross the stage, often facing into the wings, pushing the airs as if doing the breaststroke in water, playing off one another. Ludwig-Leone's violin line skitters, a piano thrills through arpeggios. Kretzschmar, now solo, shows us her expansiveness that brings to mind Wendy Whelan's modernity. Stanley, always exciting to watch, steals on, lunges deeply, and leaps, striking like a cobra. The dancers bounce in quick jumps to the tumultuous music.The vocabulary of ballet ties it all together, but we only rarely miss its full, connected phrases. This collective is coaxing it toward a new direction of their own device. Schumacher recently debuted as a choreographer at New York City Ballet; no doubt this boosted his own company's endeavors, and rightly so. 

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