American Repertory Ballet

March 24, 2006

Samuel Pott and Jennifer Cavanaugh in Graham Lustig’s
Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy American Repertory Ballet


American Repertory Ballet
Symphony Space, NYC

March 24–25, 2006

Reviewed by Wendy Perron


Kudos to ARB for bringing back Tharp’s Baker’s Dozen (and to Elaine Kudo for staging it)! This dreamy love-fest from 1979 is a treat: easy, stylish dancing that spills onto the stage; liquid partnering; and a touch of sly humor. The ragtime music by Willie “The Lion” Smith, played wonderfully by pianist Max Midroit, goes from lolling to skipping to racing. The layered white costumes by Santo Loquasto contribute to a heavenly view of sensuality—a lyrical, polymorphous kind of pleasure shared by all 12 dancers, where no one “belongs” to anyone else. This is a pre-verbal, pre-monogamous precursor to Tharp’s better known Nine Sinatra Songs, which has more spectacular lifts but less harmony between the sexes.

Exorcising Man
, a world premiere by Lauri Stallings, was developed with support from ARB’s “Dancing Through the Ceiling,” a program that commissions women choreographers. This is an engagingly inventive, witty, even reckless piece for nine dancers in red. The angular, sometimes scarecrow-like positions alternate with partnering wherein the woman softly boomerangs out and back. Once, a woman lifts a man by the back of his shirt. Daringly, the group piece ends with a duet—a fine, stark moment of intimacy.

In artistic director Graham Lustig’s Dialogues, another world premiere, guest artist Carmen de Lavallade sits on a bench with soprano Lorraine Ernest and dancer Jennifer Cavanaugh. ARB was lucky to have de Lavallade as a guest artist. Or was it? With one of the most beautiful and masterful dancers on earth center stage, who will watch the other dancers? Even sitting still she is more fascinating than the commotion around her—Cavanaugh dancing with four consecutive men, each with a different relationship to her. Perhaps de Lavallade portrays a woman looking back on her youth. At the end, the four men raise up a child who has been concealed behind the bench. An even more distant memory? The granddaughter? The future? No matter. What you remember is de Lavallade’s delicate neck, regal bearing, and the way her hand slowly moves up to her clavicle. A lofty theatrical soul animates her every move.

Lustig’s VISTA was more successful, relying on kinetics rather than narrative. With music by John Lurie of the Lounge Lizards, it had its own lounge-lizard quality, with much shoulder rolling, head shaking, and skin-to-skin contact. There was a certain toughness: The women would jump onto stabbing points and then snake their spines like a ribbon.

All the dancers are good, but one is great: Peng-Yu Chen, from Taiwan. A sliver of a human being, she darted through the choreography with an explosive fullness. In VISTA, hoisted by other dancers, she nearly flew to the rafters, eliciting gasps. See