Ballet Builders

March 14, 2009

Ballet Builders
DiCapo Opera Theater, NYC

March 14–15, 2009

Reviewed by Margaret Fuhrer


Photo by Ron Sowers.

Anna Godwin and Terrence

Battles in Cindy Mancini’s


Thank you, Ballet Builders, for showing us New Yorkers how much life there is in ballet outside the city. The organization’s 19th annual showcase of emerging ballet choreographers featured artists from Texas, North Carolina, Oregon, California, Illinois, and Colorado. To see the markedly different perspectives of these up-and-comers was a rare opportunity.

But a heavy question looms over new ballet choreography: Is this work moving ballet forward? Most of the six Ballet Builders choreographers seem to think that the future of ballet lies in hybridization, that classical vocabulary plus another dance form equals innovation. Cindy Mancini melded pointe work with the gyrations and hip thrusts of nightclub dance in her dreary duet, COUNTERPART. Oregon Ballet Theatre principal Anne Mueller’s harmlessly sweet Heartaches and Hotcakes, with music by Patsy Cline, mixed ballet with bits of down-home country charm—“aww-shucks” knee slaps, swing-your-partner duets. In Trio for One, by Ballet Austin faculty member Jennifer Hart, Japanese drumming and flute inspired a spare, elegant pas de trois that gently evoked the ceremonial quality of traditional Japanese dance. Eclectic, yes, but none of these experiments with cross-pollination was particularly fruitful.

Sidra Bell, the lone New Yorker of the bunch, won the steps-per-minute award with her frantically paced Opus Romanza. Bell is apparently a William Forsythe disciple, a fan of off-balance partnering and exaggerated extensions. But while her eight dancers should be applauded for their stamina, Opus just felt like a lot of noise. And in excerpts from Cirque D’Amour, Boulder Ballet artistic director Peter Davison seemed too preoccupied with props—one couple danced on and around a ladder, another performed while lit only by the light bulb they passed between them—to worry about substance.


Most successful was Ballet Builders veteran Gina Patterson. Her salsa-tinged quartet In Time, set to the music of Belizean Andy Palacio, had a logic, a feeling of inevitability—a sense that only that step could have come at that moment—which the other works lacked. Patterson has a voice, that ever-elusive thing, and whatever the future of ballet may be, choreographers like her will always have a place in it.