In Festa Barocco, Mauro Bigonzetti’s new work for the Ailey company, there are two knockout duets. Each seems like a secret that bursts open little by little, with equal parts desire and combat. They had sudden drops and soaring lifts, and odd places of touch: his head on her knee, her foot at his throat.

In the first one, Gwynenn Taylor Jones and Clifton Brown seemed to turn each other inside out, crawling through each other’s open spaces. The awkwardness of their intimacy was pretty wonderful.

In the second, the astounding Linda Celeste Sims was held by elbow and knee by Glenn Allen Sims (her husband) while the rest of her body dangled downward. Suddenly he hoisted her upward like a rolled carpet—or did she propel herself upward? Her strength and daring are breathtaking. These two don’t have to look at each other to know what the other will do; they sense each other’s strength and act on a dare. If you blink, you’ll miss something.

These exciting duets reminded me of the partnering in Oltremare, Bigonzetti’s piece for New York City Ballet last year. The ballet depicts couples fleeing their own country, desperate to start a new life. In music, tone, and atmosphere, it’s completely different from Festa Barocca, but they are similar in one way: the terrific duets. Here again, a woman might toss herself at a man and end up almost impaled on him. We see desperate flings, threatening moves, a leg that can strangle someone. All this requires a fierceness of the dancers and a physicality they can sink their teeth into.

And for the audience, we get a fearless picture of real life relationships: how two people can need, reject, desire, move together, push apart, explode. The actual inter-twinings seem like formations we’ve never seen before, but we recognize the impulses and the danger. We are seeing something hard, tension-filled, yet intimate, and full of surprises and counter-surprises.

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