Ballet Austin in Stephen Mills’ “Ashes,” from
Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Ballet Austin
Joyce Theater, New York, NY
October 5–9, 2005
Reviewed by Doris Hering
Ballet Austin (of Texas) features works by a generous range of contemporary choreographers, among them Ulysses Dove, Dwight Rhoden, David Parsons, David Nixon, and Peter Pucci. But for the company’s New York debut, artistic director Stephen Mills chose only his own ballets.
Mills is a dancemaker who takes human and philosophical content very seriously. He also takes love seriously, but seemingly without much trust. His “One/the body’s grace,” part of a longer work called Touch, dealt with three couples in various stages of their relationships. Starkly costumed in leotards and inhabiting a bare stage, they shared a state of athletic angst. In theme, the ballet was reminiscent of Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, but the latter’s contrasting of passion and irony was richer perhaps because it was, in a way, more trusting.
In “Ashes,” from his Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project, Mills examined the journey from birth to death, from one state of aloneness to another. The mood was darkly tense as the eight participants lined up upstage and were gradually propelled toward the center. They circled like the hands of a clock run amok, then sifted away one by one, leaving soloist Allisyn Paino desperately reaching upward.
Desire and Three Movements
, a world premiere, continued the evening’s exploration of the nature of irony and loss, but its mood was mellower, the partnering more relaxed. It was as though Mills the artistic director were taking over from Mills the choreographer, revealing his dancers in a more poetic guise.
Although the majority of Ballet Austin’s 20 dancers do not appear to have been trained in the company’s large school, they have a well-matched style. Led by Lisa Washburn and Paino, their energy was high, the gestures crisp, and the partnering bold. Mills’ ballets revealed the director to have a strong sense of aesthetic purpose, clearly expressed by his dancers. See www.balletaustin.org.