ABT Studio Company/Ailey II

March 30, 2004

ABT Studio Company/Ailey II
Joyce Theatre

New York, New York

March 30–April 4, 2004

Reviewed by Clive Barnes

Nowadays quite a few dance companies have what might be called “farm teams”—second companies of young dancers being molded with the possibility of joining the main troupe. This season two of the most prestigious of these cadet groups, the ABT Studio Company and Ailey II, shared a week-long engagement, although unfortunately not a program.

The Studio Company dancers started off with classic pieces by Ashton and Balanchine plus world premieres by Brian Reeder and Laura Gorenstein Miller. Artistic Director John Meehan obviously wanted to pay homage to the two great choreographers who are sharing a centennial. But both Ashton’s Monotones I and II, a time-motion study in quiet ecstasy to Erik Satie music, and the lesser but joyously riotous charms of Balanchine’s Tarantella, a study in almost perpetual motion, require more weathered and technically adroit dancers than these promising youngsters.

Miller, a Los Angeles-based choreographer with her own company, Helios Dance Theater, offered a curious mix in Milk Pool, a work as pretentiously elusive as its title. Salvatore Salamone dressed the five female dancers as if they were auditioning for Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition, and the choreography bounced against a score contrasting Pergolesi with pop. The final frenetically jazzy duet, danced by Abigail Simon and the lone male, Arron Scott, showed zip, but the ballet was all too loose in form and concept.

Far better—in fact the best new piece shown by either group—was Reeder’s entertainingly original Staged Fright, his third work for the company. Reeder, a former dancer with New York City Ballet, ABT, and Ballett Frankfurt, shows a gift for combining dramatic flair with quirky and singular dance. Staged Fright is a cheeky homage to Hitchcock and film noir, complete with a beautifully appropriate Bernard Herrmann score; without telling a story, it caught the chilling horror and underlying humor of the medium. It was handsomely danced, especially by a romantically distraught Grant DeLong and Melanie Hamrick, and Lara Bossen as a cheerful cocktail-party poisoner.

Ailey II gave the New York premieres of ballets by Igal Perry, resident choreographer Troy Powell, and Nathan Trice, together with repertory works by Judith Jamison, Talley Beatty, and Robert Battle. Again, everything was beautifully danced, yet the evening as a whole had more gloss than finish. Perry’s Intimate Voices proved a mixture of the bland and the difficult that added up to precious little.

Powell’s Point of Departure was an angst-ridden duet—strongly danced by Marimba Gold-Watts and Zach Law Ingram—not unlike (in fact, too much like) the “Backwater Blues” number from Ailey’s Blues Suite. This was followed by Beatty’s 1947 solo to a spiritual, Mourner’s Bench, splendidly danced by Chris Jackson. Full of pose, poise, and piety, it was strikingly similar to the “I Want to Be Ready” solo from Revelations—the revelation here being that it preceded the Ailey by thirteen years!

Nathan Trice’s anti-war Prayer in Discord had vigor, kinetic impetus, and emotive force—powerfully led by a jaggedly elegant Khilea Douglass—but lacked form and substance. It should have had the clarity that comes with dramatic focus; still, it was worth doing and worth seeing. The program was completed with a vague solo taken from Jamison’s Divining, and Battle’s drum-bouncing, testosterone-loaded, empty-yet-popular sextet for angry warriors, The Hunt.

For more information: www.abt.org; www.alvinailey.org