Saturday, October 29, 2022

New York Notebook, October 2022

In the Upper Room. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Twyla Tharp, the pioneering sui generis choreographer now in her 80s, continues to make new work, but when you've created such beloved icons as In the Upper Room and Nine Sinatra Songs, why not show them to audiences both old and appreciative and young and curious? 
New York City Center reprised these two hits, for which a crackerjack cast was assembled—no small feat given the gordian knot of scheduling, plus the technical and mental demands. Even the finest ballet companies with peak gifts (locally, ABT in recent decades) can find the tempo, endurance, and difficulty of Upper Room demanding. 

At the outset, a sense of heightened drama unfolds given the combination of  elements. From the otherworldly fog lit by Jennifer Tipton, ceaseless waves of dancers emerge in Norma Kamali's signature black, white, and red costumes, propelled by Philip Glass' thrilling score. The two teams of dancers comprise "stompers" (modern/jazz) and "bombers," (ballet), and parry with extremely physical phrases and moves. 

In the Upper Room. Photo: Benjamin Miller

The City Center cast included dancers and alumni from New York City Ballet, Martha Graham, Miami City, and ABT's Cassandra Trenary, temporarily released from obligations with her regular company's coincidental run of Whipped Cream at the Koch. Amidst a group of stellar performers, Trenary shone with her ability to imbue even fleeting, abstract interactions with layers of humanity. Not only can she draw on her dramatic repertoire of ABT's story ballets, her independent projects have lent texture and nuance to her art. It doesn't hurt that her technique is solid and effortlessly pure.

Other talented dancers gave sparkling performances. Reed Tankersley kicked it into high gear halfway through Upper Room. Jeanette Delgado radiated charisma, and Lloyd Knight and Richard Villaverde loosened their Martha Graham formality to savor the exuberant physicality.

After the intensity and crescendo of Upper Room, the dancers could relax a bit into Nine Sinatra Songs. Some of the women wore short wigs, transforming their ballerina-ness into something looser and more plebeian, in a good way. I find the partnering and twosomes a bit repetitive and similar in dynamic, but Tharp maximizes the potential of the ballroom dance spiced up with balletic lifts.

Whipped Cream. Photo: Gene Schiavone

At the Koch, ABT performed Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream before a run of repertory. The fanciful story ballet is packed with psychedelic imagery by Mark Ryden, which veers from enchanting (animal parade) to flat-out creepy (doctor, priest, chef). Ryden also created the ingenious costumes, themselves works of art—imaginative iterations of sweets, and the elegant nurses' dresses, like Juliet's gown gone institutional.

Daniil Simkin, a former principal, returned to reprise the role of the Boy (which he originated in 2017) who eats too many confections and winds up in the hospital, where he hallucinates the drama that we see. Simkin's remarkable ballon and bravura, plus his affable boyishness, elevate the entire ballet. The central characters of Princess Tea Flower (Devon Teuscher) and Prince Coffee (Cory Stearns) have an extended duet, in which she is charmingly langorous. A
 trio performs as slapstick liquors (Zhong-Jing Fang, Blaine Hoven, Roman Zhurbin), a section which feels imbued with forced hilarity, but shows Ratmansky's relatable humor.
The ensemble scenes toward the finale are undeniably enchanting. A cavalcade of fabulous critters and bouncing petit fours children populate the stage. The Boy recovers, sheds his hospital gown to reveal a gold shorts outfit, pairs up with Princess Praline (newly promoted soloist Breanne Granlund), and is fĂȘted by the crowd, which tosses him in the air. It's a confection for sure, if at times purposely nightmarish, but a good reason to see a talented company dance in an elaborate production.

Edward Hopper, Study for Approaching a City, 1946. Fabricated chalk on paper, 8.5 x 11”. Whitney Museum, Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.184. © 2022 Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper/Licensed by Artists Rights Society, NY

Edward Hopper, Blackwell’s Island, 1928. Oil on canvas, 34.5 x 59.5”. Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. © 2022 Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper/Licensed by Artists Rights Society, NY. Image courtesy Art Resource, NY. Photo: Edward C. Robison III

Edward Hopper's New York, at the Whitney, contains some classics, such as Automat and New York Movie. I confess to taking his work for granted as it feels so familiar, but it was a revelation to walk through the show and take in many paintings and other pieces that were fresh to me. Certain quotidian things—rooftops, landmark bridges, the light, even train tunnels and the strange islands that dot the rivers—were instantly relatable. As much as the city has changed at a breakneck pace, Hopper reminds us that a good deal has endured. Through March 5, 2023.

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