Monday, August 10, 2015

Beamish and Bouder in the Joyce's Ballet Festival

Sterling Baca. Photo: Jade Young
The Joyce is on to something with its Ballet Festival, in which six companies share the theater for two weeks in the previously sleepy ballet month of August. It's a bit like many of the other summer festivals with dance, like the Fringe, DanceNow, River2River, in that variety is key, but it's all grounded in the lexicon of ballet. Another distinguishing feature is the inclusion of many outstanding dancers who are moonlighting from ABT, NYCB, or other large troupes.

I caught two companies in the first week. Josh Beamish's move: thecompany began its program with the choreographer performing solo in the first part of Pierced, to music by David Lang. Beamish is more muscular than most male ballet dancers, particularly his legs, and this gives his movement the sense of being slightly arduous and rooted, notably when he suspends on relevĂ© and drops his weight solidly. There's tension within his body that emanates drama. The second part of the piece featured ABT's Luciana Paris and Sterling Baca, who, with a sleek fluidity and eagerness, embodied Beamish's style best among the men. 

Of the women, Stephanie Williams, an Aussie who distinguished herself in ABT's recent Met season, was especially luminous; she danced Stay with Dimitri Kleioris (a magnetic fellow  Australian who will appear in Flesh and Bone on Starz network). Williams is the kind of dancer who may not knock you out at first, but eventually you notice her ability to adapt to any style, as well as her remarkable strength as seen in a devilish backbend with the front leg extended, steadied by him. Their duet had tender moments—embraces, a swift leap onto his shoulder, she supporting his full weight while leaning against her. 

The program served as a kind of primer of Beamish's movement, beginning with a solo packed with contained energy, building through a duet in which a dialogue seemed to be taking place along with an urgency and strong directional pulls, followed by the more romantic Stay. It culminated in the premiere of Surface Properties, an ambitious dance for 10 with busy, witty video by Matt Keegan, and Janie Taylor's sleek black and mint costumes. The groupings and duets moved with an adrenalized, urban feel; exit and entrance walks were done with a louche, street-wise attitude. Roman Zhurbin is ABT's reigning character dancer, so good at acting that it's easy to forget he's a terrific dancer; he partnered with Isadora Loyola in a charming duet section in front of a pong-like video, which distracted slightly. Zhong-Jing Fang led a "femme" section with verve, and Baca looked in the zone during the finale.

Ashley Bouder is one of the fleetest, most athletic dancers at NYCB, but she can be cast in roles that skew cute. In her own vehicle, the Ashley Bouder Project, performing with fellow NYCB dancers, she immediately defied that image, with gratifying results. Adriana Pierce's Unsaid is a duet for Bouder and Preston Chamblee; they sport chic, sheer overcoats designed by Reid and Harriet. The coats, along with lit squares (Jimmy Lawlor) and spatial arrangements connote interior and exterior, intimacy and emotional distance, to music by Grieg played live. Pierce, a dancer with Miami City Ballet, makes expressive phrases, building upon a pirouette, to preparation, to a double pirouette, increasing in intensity. Best of all, there was no cute in sight.

In Passing is a filmed ballet, something we've seen in Pontus Lidberg's work, and in ambitious projects such as NY Export: Opus Jazz. While we don't have the pleasures and risks of live performance, Andrea Schermoly's direction takes us to varied locations—a theater house, a tunnel, a chic bedroom, a studio being painted. Jumpy cuts and fast-motion alter time, sometimes to comical effect. The setting moves from dreamy to impatient, tracking the moves of Bouder, Amar Ramasar, Indiana Woodward, and Antonio Carmena. It's a different, intriguing way of experiencing ballet and one person's aesthetic, and the quality of the recording, and the way it entirely filled the screen, was appreciated.
Amar Ramasar and Ashley Bouder in Rouge et Noir. Photo: Alexis Ziemsk
Beamish contributed Rouge et Noir, once again a larger-scale production with six dancers set in front of an abstract, colorful painted backdrop by Mark Howard. This, plus Shostakovich's spiky score, and the sculptural, luxuriant key duet with Bouder and Ramasar evoked some of Balanchine's modernist moves. Slender corps dancers Sebastian Villarini-Velez and Peter Walker added their own interpretations to the style, though Alexa Maxwell and Woodward were given less to do, with one awkwardly holding a skirt train in the final scene without using it. (The otherwise fine costumes—leotards with wispy cutouts in color schemes keying off of the mural, including, yes, rouge et noir—were designed by B Michael.) 

But the most memorable moments are of Bouder on relevĂ©, being held or spun by Ramasar, in various poses and levels of tension and repose. It was a quenching dose of ballet by some of the art's top dancers, and alongside the two other works, notably by young women, showed a conceptual curiosity that also refreshed.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Stanley Whitney Gets a New York Museum Show, Finally

My Tina Turner, 2013. Oil on linen, 60"x60", collection of Emily Todd
Courtesy the artist and team gallery
The Studio Museum in Harlem has given Stanley Whitney his first New York museum show, a welcome—if belated—gesture for this 69-year-old painter, who has been egregiously overlooked until recent years. Apart from a 2012 show at team gallery, the current museum show (curated by Thelma Golden) and another gallery show at Karma, I'd not seen it before. The exhibition is subtitled Dance the Orange, and indeed the raucous, exuberant colors sing and dance off the walls of the cool museum on these hot days. 

Untitled, 2014, black gouache on Fabriano paper, 11"x15". Courtesy the artist and team gallery
In an informative interview with the Brooklyn Rail, Whitney discusses his training and some influences, which include Barnett Newman, Donald Judd, Philip Guston, Alma Thomas, an Etruscan museum (stacked things), Egypt (density). His work may seem to be entirely about color—certainly a full topic—but when you look at his black and white gouaches, the importance of structure, rhythm, and negative space emerge. These take on different functions in the color compositions—a bit like reading a typed script versus watching great actors inhabit the roles.

Untitled, 2014, gouache on paper, 21-7/8"x30-3/8". Courtesy the artist and team gallery
Then there are his color gouaches. Absent are the lattice frameworks of the black and whites, but here one color may flow horizontally and vertically, aggregating in a larger geometric form which takes on a life of its own. Colors advance and recede and seem to converse with one another. It feels like a busy, teeming community, full of life.

The Blue, 2012. Oil on linen, 20"x20". Courtesy the artist and team gallery
In his oil canvases, the cacophony seems to have resolved itself into balance, with an underlying harmony—like musical notes on a staff. In My Tina Turner, the edges are smoothed, some of the color panels as creamy and dense as blocks of butter. The rough and jostling characteristics have grown up and become adults. In other paintings, the hues are cooler and more serene, and sometimes the brushstrokes are left textured, letting the canvas show through. His paintings are certainly among the most gratifying color abstractions being produced today. Through October 25.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

It ain't easy being a Mets fan, but it is amazin'

Flores thinking he was on the trading block.
Every Mets fan knows all too well feeling despondent, questioning the sanity of a commitment to a team that, when winning .500, it's a great day. There are the bright moments too, which is generally what keeps us tuned in, rather than contemplating which bridge to jump from. Ups, downs, it's all part of the life cycle of a season. But this week, catalyzed by the trade deadline on Friday, really surpassed it all, plumbing new emotional lows and highs. And in the end, it reinforced the richness that comes with fandom.

Wilmer Flores
Flores after hitting walk-off homer Friday night.
Talk about an emotional wringer. The trade of Flores + Zack Wheeler for Carlos Gomez fell through, reportedly because the Mets medical staff doubted the health of CG's hip. Rumors flew during Wed's game, while Flores was on the field. He was overcome with emotion, wiping away tears, thinking about potentially leaving the team, the only organization for which he's played in his eight-year career. The fans cheered what they assumed was his last at-bat. No trade, false farewells. Collins gave him off Thursday (poor guy was probably exhausted), and he played last night in the nail-biter extra-inning game versus the Nats, driving in the winning run (and the only other Met run) and garnering ovations with each defensive play as well. 

It was the best and worst of times for Flores, but on the bright side, being named in a trade means you have great value. And it made fans appreciate a guy who comes off as a bit laconic, who has been somewhat undervalued all season, shuttling between second and short.

Zack Wheeler
Poor Zack. Not only is he recuperating from Tommy John surgery, he is getting batted around as trade bait like a shuttlecock. Honestly, he has never seemed to fit in well with New York, but he's a very good pitcher who would slot back into the new crack staff as a great 4th or 5th starter. So he was presumably at home (wherever that is) rehabbing, dangling in the wind. I read that he called Mets management to say that he wanted to stay a Met. Aww.

Yoenis Cespedes
After all the potential names flew—Tulowitzky foremost, aside from CarGo2, this was one I didn't hear. But he is supposedly excellent with the bat and defensively, immediately leading both within the team now. Alderson had to shut out all the rumors and criticisms all week and focus on sealing this deal, which sounds like a perfect fit.

David Wright
Like a unicorn, Wright showed up in the dugout this week, after his solitary exile in California, rehabbing his back. The first to high-five a hitter after a big hit, his energy has always been irreplaceable, even if he looked more like a coach than a player (presumably he will be a terrific manager when he hangs up his cleats). Talk of him playing a minor league game next week is almost too good to be true. Footage crept out of him doing "baseball activities." Hallelujah (with breath held).

Juan Uribe
Getting Uribe, a competent third baseman, to me felt like admitting that Wright might not play this season. It seems more to be an insurance policy. Also, the guy is all in during his at-bats, and hit a homer in his first game. Plus, Clubhouse Presence.

Jenrry Mejia
I don't even know what to say about his getting suspended for an entire season's worth of games for testing positive for PEDs not a month after returning to the team after serving a 50-game penalty. Can anyone be that stupid?

Tyler Clippard
Tyler Clippard

Okay, the guy still looks more like an A than a Met—hair, weird glasses, his low body fat—but the idiotic situation of Mejia makes this acquisition all the better. Also, Familia has been failing lately, whether from fatigue, under or overuse, or mental torture from his pal Mejia. 

In the end, the games
Extra innings, blown saves after long rain delays. Walk-off wins. Not scoring any runs for long stretches. Then scoring a ton. Coming within one game of the Nats only to lose a few. Playing some of the best teams. Taking perfect games into late innings. 

You couldn't ask for more emotion packed into a week of baseball. It's been insane, but amazing. The amazin's! Now hang on for the second half of the season.