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.

The same can be said of Brandenburgs (1988), by Taylor. This exuberant, tautly structured work, it must be said, actually made me reminisce about the company’s days of yore in residence at City Center, prior to moving to the more lustrous, spacious Koch hall, with far more distance between stage and viewer. Taylor’s is a repertoire in which the dancers establish immediate connections among themselves onstage, but also with the audience. Parisa Khobdeh’s smile and welcoming port de bras were a gestural hug, her playful flicking foot a wink. The corps of men have never looked so crisp and united, and the dance's hero, Michael Trusnovec, emanated strength and calm in addition to his usual precision. Eran Bugge and Michelle Fleet as well radiated the warmth that is a signature of the women in this Taylor classic. If it looked like the work was made for this stage, it probably was.  
Brittany Pollack and Peter Walker in New Blood. Photo: Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet presented an evening of season premieres on Oct 8, including a world premiere, Jeux, by Kim Brandstrup. It was the first choreography for an American company by the Danish-born choreographer, who has worked primarily in the UK. He has worked in film, which was immediately apparent from the absorbing noir look—chiaroscuro lighting punctuated by a bare bulb fixture, business/cocktail attire in charcoal hues, stark, planar set elements. Sara Mearns, the protagonist, sported a blindfold, which at first seemed like a prop in a game of hide and seek, but after a prolonged period of probing and apparent disorientation, the possibility of a more nefarious situation arose... hostage? A t-shirt and jeans-clad Adrian Danchig-Waring entered, bouncing a ball. They did a brief fling of a duet, and she eventually gave way to his flirtations, while eventually returning to her date, Amar Ramasar, who had meanwhile dallied with Sterling Hyltin. 

Mearns reappeared without a mask (I kept wondering why she continued wearing the mask after she seemed so lost—was she self-punishing? Seeking some higher truth? Or was it simply a metaphor for mental instability?) and discovered the betrayal. Danchig-Waring felicitously happened across her in this shaken state, helpfully supporting her swooning arabesques and offering her hope and affection. Brandstrup efficiently imbued the dance with loads of drama in a brief time, ultimately focusing on this rather than satisfying ballet phrases. A strong contributing element was Debussy’s dreamy, quixotic score. The work adds a different, northern European psychological drama to NYCB’s glittering, abstract-rich repertory.

It was set in stark contrast to the four younger men’s short season premieres, which were stacked up in the first half. No doubt it makes sense timing-wise, but it seems a bit unfair to bunch them. In the first, Polaris by Myles Thatcher, to music by William Walton, Tiler Peck gazed up and outward, in search of some unearthly thing, and pulled away from Craig Hall’s restraining grasp. Her expressive, restless hands flitted about her upper body and face, while her legs struck arabesques and circled in ronds de jambes. In the end, she was pulled offstage in a final act of guidance. Zuhair Murad designed the bedazzled, sky blue outfits and Peck’s flattering flared dress. The Blue of Distance by Robert Binet, to Ravel’s swirling composition, featured Sterling Hyltin, Rebecca Krohn, and Sara Mearns in Hanako Maeda’s dressy white chiffon skirt/navy bustier costumes, partnered by four men. Flurries of movement punctuated the calm in this dark, romantic-tinged work. Harrison Ball was this dance’s free spirit/rebel, maximizing his crisp, snappy phrases in a standout role.

Joseph Gordon and Teresa Reichlen in Common Ground. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Troy Schumacher’s Common Ground, to a commissioned score by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, provided a fresh approach. The costumes, by Marques’Almeida, immediately signaled something new—multi-hued fabric panels flapped like wings, with trailing ribbons flicking and echoing movements. Amar Ramasar bolted onstage, rapidly shifting directions, unfolding his long legs while jumping in time to a big drum beat. Ashley Laracey joined him, seemingly testing her limits. Anthony Huxley, usually cast in tightly controlled roles, was unleashed here, bursting through the air with Teresa Reichlen sharing the stage. This unlikely pairing of one of the smallest men and largest women underscored how this work avoided typical ballet gender roles. Alexa Maxwell, a corps dancer, demonstrated her radiance and pizazz. 

Justin Peck chose a title with several possible interpretations: New Blood. Yes, it was a premiere by a man still young, but it is also literally about what keeps us alive, with mock CPR actions and a constant stream of energy. Logically it is set to Steve Reich's coursing composition, with wonderful organically patterned unitards by Humberto Leon in corpuscular shades; the dancers’ hair was slicked tight to the scalp, with dramatic make-up. Standouts were Taylor Stanley and Andrew Veyette, with their razor-like precision, and David Prottas and Georgina Pazcoguin, both powerful dramatic presences. Toward the work’s finale, Peck’s unrelenting dynamics and literal musical interpretation felt a bit numbing, but perhaps it was soaking in all that new blood and new dance.

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