Friday, August 16, 2019

Ballet in August is now a thing

Joseph Gordon and David Hallberg in Song of a Wayfarer. Photo: Maria Baranova
Ballet has a major cultural presence in New York, with two resident world-class companies (New York City Ballet and ABT), and visiting companies passing through with regularity. In recent years, the Joyce Theater—one of the city’s foremost venues for ballet, albeit on a smaller scale—has presented an evolving summer ballet series featuring a mix of emerging and/or female choreographers, chamber groups, and this year, programs curated by members of London’s Royal Ballet.

Program C, curated by Jean-Marc Puissant, led off with a premiere by ABT dancer Gemma Bond—Then and Again (music by Alfredo Piatti). Bond’s cast largely comprised fellow ABT dancers. Through duets, trios, and groupings, Bond sketched out a sort of triangle between Stephanie Williams, Thomas Forster, and Cassandra Trenary, with Williams getting left out of the mix eventually. The style is classical, organically pleasing, with 90º elbows, arched lifts. Forster sweeps Trenary low, in circles, so her toes brushed the floor. Although essentially abstract, the movement evoked curiosity, anomie, and passion.
It’s a bit odd that I’ve seen more of burgeoning choreographer Bond’s work in New York over the last decade than that by Maurice Béjart (1927—2007), the Frenchman who created in the last half of the 20th century (and whose company was once called Ballet of the 20th Century). His Song of a Wayfarer, to Mahler lieder, was staged by Maina Gielgud on David Hallberg (ABT) and Joseph Gordon, a recently promoted principal at NYCB. It is a rare male ballet duet, another plotless work in which psychological states are conveyed through gesture and intent. 
Calvin Richardson and Sarah Lamb in
Elite Syncopations. Photo: Maria Baranova

Since returning from major injury and rehab after he became world-renowned in 2011 for joining the Bolshoi while dancing with ABT, Hallberg has not only written a book about it all and become Nike sponsored, he has dabbled outside of ABT in different styles and collaborations. His Apollonian physique and line remain ideal, but it is rewarding to see him plumb his soul a bit more as well. Gordon, slightly shorter and more powerfully built, charges his movements with extra juice. Both men showed skill with the ballet technique, and the numerous lifted leg poses seemed destined to showcase Hallberg’s miraculous arches. But the question is, why do we not see more Béjart here?

Elite Syncopations, by Kenneth MacMillan, capped off a disarmingly diverse program. Set to rag tunes, the six outstanding dancers wore Ian Spurling’s gorgeous costumes—unitards with vivid decorations and patterns that mimic party garb. Trenary performed a solo, the perfect vehicle in which to show off her plush, muscular precision and kinetic wit. The Royal’s Sarah Lamb and Calvin Richardson joined in an elegant, flirtatious duet, and Marcelino Sambé wowed with standing split jumps and athletic chains of leaps.

With the eclipse of the Lincoln Center Festival, and a dearth of dance in August in general, the Joyce’s ballet series fills a void. Its ambitious four-slate series also included work by Ashton, McGregor, Arthur Pita, Laila Diallo, and more. Clearly, from the sold-out house the night I attended, audiences are responding.