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Ballet v6.0

By Susan Reiter

Ballet X by Alexander Iziliaev, JoyceJoyce Theater
New York, NY
August 6–17, 2013

 

The Joyce Theater’s new two-week festival, Ballet v6.0, showcased the vision and focus of adventurous chamber ballet companies from five different cities. Several are led by former members of major ballet troupes (New York City, Pacific Northwest, Pennsylvania and Houston Ballets); their rosters range from 6 to 12 dancers. Half of them are primarily vehicles for a single choreographer, while the others perform a more diverse repertoire. Most were unfamiliar to New York audiences; if they had performed here, it was in a venue without the high profile of the Joyce.

Allison Walsh and Billy Cannon of BalletX
Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

 

Their choices of what to bring (or not bring) to the Joyce were illuminating. The first four companies all favored a two-act program with several shorter works in the first half, followed by a single, more extended and substantial work. In the case of the opening-night troupe, the Philadelphia-based BalletX, a weak first half consisting of arid and dutiful works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Alex Ketley made the closing work—artistic director Matthew Neenan’s The Last Glass—all the more invigorating. Neenan clearly takes direct inspiration from the music (an inspired selection of robust and varied songs by the indie-rock band Beirut) and his 10 dancers.

 

A rich, inventive ballet, The Last Glass works on multiple levels and invites repeated viewings. Connected as a community, BalletX dancers move through shifting scenarios that juxtapose solitude with romance. Some of the women wear flouncy party dresses; a few are in pointe shoes. Beirut’s music can be mournful or playful, evoking old-time parades or Eastern European traditions. Nothing of the work is predictable, and everything feels musically and emotionally honest. There is momentum and exquisite phrasing on display as Neenan employs an intricate ballet vocabulary with wonderful immediacy and vibrancy.

 

whim w'him's Flower Festival, Molly Magee, bamberg fine arts, joyce
Lucien Postlewaite and Andrew Bartee of Whim W'him in Flower Festival
Photo by Molly Magee, Bamberg Fine Art Photography

 

In the two shorter works by Olivier Wevers, artistic director of the Seattle-based Whim W’Him, there was much evidence of a distinctive voice. In Monster and Flower Festival, Wevers creates with a focused point of view, and has the (currently rare) ability to structure and shape a dance. He’s an idea man. Monster, a series of three duets, draws on a poem by RA Scion (a portion is heard on recording before each duet) to investigate (according to the program note) “Society,” “Addiction,” and “Relationship.” Andrew Bartee and Jim Kent, the first couple, are achingly wary, moving side by side or in lifts with restrained tenderness. Tory Peil and Kyle Johnson cling together like desperate creatures, groping and tussling as they embody the idea of dependency. And Melody Mennite (the sole dancer on pointe—not in socks) and Lucien Postlewaite connect and separate with the stop/start momentum of a couple who don’t belong together yet can’t let go of one another.

 

Adam Bamberg's photo of Monster
Melody Mennite and Lucien Postlewaite in Monster
Photo by Adam Bamberg, Bamberg Fine Art Photography

 

Flower Festival uses the bouncy, melodic 19th-century music for the famed Bournonville duet to present two men in business suits who face off in opposite corners, gradually peeling off layers as they trade solos of quirky, off-kilter movement timed for humorous effect. The sheer oddness of this to anyone familiar with the demure courtship duet provides amusement, but while Wevers displays expert timing, his larger purpose isn’t clear. Is it mockery? A statement about contemporary gender roles? One man wears a blue tie, shirt, and socks, while the other wears pink. If they are stand-ins for a male-female couple, however, that aspect is not sufficiently explored.

 

Whim W’him’s technically accomplished dancers could not make a persuasive case for Wevers’ third, overly long work, The Sofa, set to a Mozart piano concerto. They worked hard maneuvering and climbing over/around a mauve sofa, but all the hectic, busy activity and sequential duets became a case of more being less.

 

Ballet Collective Lora Robertson, Joyce
BalletCollective's Epistasis
Photo by Lora Robertson

 

Troy Schumacher, a member of New York City Ballet, showcased seven current and former colleagues in the two works performed by BalletCollective. The level of dancing was expectedly high, and in The Impulse Wants Company, a premiere, Schumacher revealed a freshness and spontaneity. With the Joyce’s plain brick wall as the backdoor for both ballets, and casual costuming, Schumacher displayed a Robbins influence in the way his dancers presented themselves with unaffected grace, often pausing to sit and watch one another appreciatively.

 

Schumacher’s choreography alternates vigorous, expansive sections with interludes of intimacy. It was a lovely match for Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s eloquent, invigorating score (performed live by the ACME ensemble). The same dancers returned in Epistasis, a re-working of a 2011 piece, which has similarly striking moments but suffered somewhat from its similar structure, with dancers often taking solo turns as others amiably observed.

 

One can appreciate that Company C Contemporary Ballet, a repertory troupe from the San Francisco Bay Area, would choose to leave its Tharp and Tudor at home and showcase its original repertoire at the Joyce. But their program was a dispiriting one. Yuri Zhukov’s darkly intense Railroad Joint, with its hypnotic patterning, would have worked better as a middle work rather than an opening. Patrick Corbin’s For Use in Subhuman Primates Only set the full company throbbing and pulsating to the hip-hop group Massive Attack in a persuasive evocation of the club scene, but it ultimately felt diffuse.

 

Dominic Walsh Camille Claudel, by Gabriella Nissen, Joyce
Dominic Walsh Dance Theater's Domenico Luciano and Hana Sakai in Camille Claudel
Photo by Gabriella Nissen

 

Houston-based Dominic Walsh Dance Theater opened with a fiercely focused performance of the Act Two duet from Matthew Bourne’s 1995 Swan Lake. It was fascinating to see this beautifully calibrated excerpt—with its hints of danger and sexual taunting—stand on its own. Unfortunately, the closing work was Walsh’s ponderous, hour-long would-be dance-drama Camille Claudel. It opened with blurry projected text and a Jacques Brel song, and moved through a compendium of French composers accompanying choreographed versions of Claudel’s sculptures as well as scenes from her troubled life.

 

Not reviewed: Jessica Lang Dance. (See "Choreography in Focus" May 2012.)

 

All photos courtesy of the Joyce Theater.