Friday, October 30, 2015

Partita 2—Music, Dance, and Absence

Photo: Anne Van Aerschot
Eventually, we all deal with the fragmentation and mutability of memory. Certain events appear clearly in the mind’s eye; others might shift and realign with different narratives. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Boris Charmatz play with this idea in their engaging work in Lincoln Center's White Light Festival, Partita 2, at John Jay Theater, with Amandine Beyer on violin heroically playing Bach’s composition twice. The work's structure is simple and bold. In the pitch dark, Beyer first plays the five movements; De Keersmaeker and Charmatz then move to Bach’s absent rhythms; and finally the music and dance are performed together. Michel François designed the scenic scheme—a portal of light that moved left to right with the passing of time, and stage air lit by accompanying silvery, phasing moonlight.

The music, by itself, offers a solid dose of sheer pleasure. Our hungry eyes are forced to rest, adjusting only enough to identify the shapes of surrounding viewers, but better off kept closed. And yet I was cognizant that I should be paying strict attention to the music’s rhythms and melodic lines to prepare for viewing the dancers, and noting whether—or how—their movements adhered or departed from Bach’s scoring. But that felt like trying to describe the molecular structure of ice cream while eating it. As well, watching the dance without music was certainly plenty of information by itself. The duo offers its own tensions and felicities—De Keersmaeker, an icon in the dance world, is known for her disciplined choreography that mixes and enchains the seemingly pedestrian with great skill. Her delicacy and cat-lightness contrasted with Charmatz’s large frame and athlete’s bearing. Both sported sneakers; she in a black dress and top, he in a rugby-style shirt (they both shed a layer as the show progressed). In the second, unaccompanied part, their footfalls and shoe squeaks mixed with some verbal yips and chanting. I felt Bach’s beats, but without his crystalline melodies, it could’ve been any music.
Photo: Anne Van Aerschot

In the third, complete section, Beyer took a spot at center upstage, and De Keersmaeker advanced and retreated in a short line perpendicular to us, darting furtively around Beyer at the apex, touching her blouse hem, and then running downstage to peer at us. Charmatz chose a circular path around the stage, bolting a quarter arc and then coiling, bolting and coiling. These beginning movements did not seem familiar to me after seeing part 2, but soon memory and performance converged. Yes, I recalled when he picked her up and she walked on the wall, and later when he strode in a small circle and she, lying on the floor, placed her shoe soles against his in a funny cartoon mirror way. I still can’t say for sure whether the first couple of sections were the same movements. But the dance performances felt entirely different in silence versus with music. I appreciated the distinctive qualities of both, but mostly the rewards of the complete package, with its gorgeous dimensionality and spirit of collaboration.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

ABT's Rewarding 2015 Fall Season

Arron Scott, Stella Abrera, Calvin Royal in After You. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
ABT’s season opening program was a knockout—Mark Morris’ premiere of After You, Ashton’s Monotones I & II, and Twyla Tharp’s Brahms/Haydn Variations. After You is a lovely, coursing rollick in which the dancers hold hands, march downstage, and embrace us with their warmth from the outset. Led by Gillian Murphy and Stella Abrera, they sport hot pink or orange jumpsuits with flowing legs, and dash and dart about in pairs and trios, clicking into and out of lines broken up by piqué turns. Morris can make a simple walk engrossing, and here he uses basic ballet phrases—chassée, pas de bourrée—with varying direction shifts and arm combinations in a similar way, as a grounding device. Repeating motifs include arms arranged like clockhands at 5:20, or in a sharp-elbowed “U”; one particularly delightful phrase, initiated by Calvin Royal, linked together sautés and modified barrel leaps. In a second cast, Boylston and Cornejo shone, with notables Blaine Hoven, Stephanie Williams, and Roman Zhurbin.  

After You contrasted sharply with Tharp’s more complex take on ballet in her piece from 2000. More dancers populated the stage, at times to distraction, as five lead couples took turns drawing attention to their rigorous partnering routines. It’s a dense technique unique to Tharp, who trusts these skilled dancers to rise to the challenge. Some handle it better (or are cast well); Herman Cornejo and Maria Kochetkova, for example. He happens to be a superb partner, measuring his proximity to her precisely, his attention never wavering, and smoothing out any potential rough edges. Gillian Murphy as well, with her redoubtable technique and wellspring of confidence, is perfectly suited to Tharp. James Whiteside took on the snap and flair of a flamenco dancer, and Sterling Baca showed his magnetism and fortitude paired with a lucid Isabella Boylston. (He recently sparkled in Josh Beamish’s work at the Joyce.)

Of Monotones I & II, the dancers’ identitities are somewhat difficult to discern, hidden under Ashton’s headcaps. But it’s all about the shapes and triangulations created by each trio, one in green, another in white. Joseph Gorak, master of line, paired well with an incisive Abrera and Boylston, and in II, Veronika Part was eloquent and plush stewarded by Cory Stearns and an elegant Thomas Forster. The Satie Gymnopédies, played in full orchestration, sounded a bit like elevator music, but their general hypnotic mood set the foundation for the works.

Luciana Paris in Company B. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
On another program, Daniil Simkin embodied the Rose in Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose, with Cassandra Trenary as the Young Girl. It’s the best kind of role for Simkin, who sailed effortlessly alone around the salon set, apart from a slip and fall (which demonstrated his unfettered confidence), and a couple of overly self-conscious poses. In Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Gorak, an epitome of classicism, similarly was cast perfectly, dancing with Devon Teuscher, who circled the stage smoothly in split grand jetes.   

The company brought back Paul Taylor’s Company B. Casting is so important in this bittersweet wartime ballet, and it was a joy to see Craig Salstein as the nerdy crush, Johnny, and Luciana Paris warmly romantic in "I Can Dream." Gorak was given the long solo in "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"—a slight stretch for his controlled demeanor—letting loose a bit and enjoying it. Misty Copeland danced "Rum and Coca Cola," understandably wowing the guys with her sassy hip checks and skirt flounces. The dance is structured well to showcase the company’s varied and deep talent, and in an idiom translatable to ballet, yet more fun. The short season runs through this week at the Koch Theater.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Limon Parcels Out the Work

American Repertory Ballet in There Is a Time. Photo: Gabriel Morales
Credit the Limón Dance Company, and its artistic director Carla Maxwell, for the ambitious José Limón International Dance Festival now at the Joyce, which features work by Limón danced by his company plus a number of guest artists from around the world, including the Royal Danish Ballet. By “subcontracting” the repertory, we have the chance to see far more than the native company could prepare for one run at the Joyce, where it has annual presentations. It does, however, raise a question about quality control that many choreographers face when their dances are done outside their company's orbit. Merce Cunningham Dance Company closed in the wake of its founder's death, in part to avoid this situation (although some dances are set on other company's by authorized artists, much like the Balanchine Foundation).

Program C at the Joyce led off with sjDANCEco (San José) in Mazurkas (1958), with live Chopin piano music. It was immediately apparent that these dancers were not as polished as the Limón Company, even if they possessed youthful energy. The bright yellow and blue costumes, with ribbon trim and bunching seams, didn’t help, and the close proximity magnified any problems. But the sunny, romantic mood of the piece raised the spirit, and the dancers rode and leapt on and over the lively rhythms.

Once the Limón Company took the stage in Carlota (1972), an incisive political and psychological drama, the gap in technique and depth became even more apparent. This recounting of an episode in Mexico’s mid-19th century political history began with a hair-raising scream in the dark, followed by “Maximilian!.” The initial scene showed a couple—the Empress (Brenna Monroe-Cook) cowering in a thick grey cape, while the Emperor (Ross Katen) coaxed her into action (presumably it showed her waking from this terrible memory). They relished their privileged standing among the fawning court, at least until reformist President Benito Juarez (Mark Willis, razor sharp) in a dark suit, commanded his militia to arrest, and execute, the emperor for war crimes. Stomps and body slaps from the strident moves created the effective musicless score. The company's assured delivery and effortless confidence were a master class in the style.

There Is a Time (1956), to Norman Dello Joio’s score, was performed by American Repertory Ballet (Princeton, NJ). This lengthy, work comprises many sections that depict various emotional states of youth. Its lucid opening structure—the 15 dancers form a circle, which collapses and expands—is retraced toward the end, after each small grouping or soloist performed a passage with a signature movement, all of which were thrown together in the penultimate section. While a few sections too long, it serves as a good primer for Limón’s archetypal vocabulary, alternately organically flowing and geometrically crystalline.

Back to the question of the authenticity of the style... if it can't be done properly, is it worth allowing it to be performed? You might think that Limón's relatively naturalistic style would lend itself to this, but this side-by-side juxtaposition actually underscored the varying quality of his choreography's renditions. The takeaway: Limón's own company looked fantastic, and his repertory, performed by other companies, still felt relevant, if underserved by the lack of training and consistent quality.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Some Old Things Are New Again at FFD; NYCB's Stylish Premieres

Michael Trusnovec and company in Paul Taylor's Brandenburgs. Photo: Paul B. Goode 
Has Fall for Dance lost its steam? Or has the novelty worn off after a dozen years of mixing and matching divergent troupes?

The program I caught featured Compania Urbana de Dança of Brazil, Fang-Yi Sheu and Herman Cornejo, Houston Ballet, and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Part of the attraction of the festival is being exposed to types of dance you might not see very often. CUD's louche, fluid style (choreographed by Sonia Destri Lie) derived from street dance is at first a refreshing change from canonical techniques, as seen in Eu Danço—8 Solos No Geral. Performing against the exposed upstage wall, with striking raked lighting, emphasized the urban atmosphere. It was when the dancers began making movements most often associated with, say, ballet—a leap with spreading arms—when the vocabulary felt like a foreign language for the performers.

I'd seen Sheu and Cornejo do a beta version of her Pheromones at Works & Process last year. In its more fully fleshed out version, it carried a little more heft, but had shed some of the hungry experimental feel. If it made little lasting impact, how can one complain about seeing two of the most magnetic dancers perform together? Houston Ballet brought 10 dancers, rather than the two or three often employed by large companies at FFD as a way to participate, yet keep down costs. They performed Stanton Welch’s Maninyas (1996), to music by Ross Edwards. The dancers entered from upstage, passing under hanging fabric panels which skimmed over their upthrust fingertips. The couples, sorted by costume colors (the women, on point, notably wore split skirts which they flung about their legs like can-can dancers) performed a variety of duets, from romantic to confrontational. The movement hewed closely to the music’s rhythms to the point of predictability. But it was a substantial glimpse of a company with accomplished dancers.