Ballet Memphis

April 19, 2001

Ballet Memphis shone thorugh a mixed repertory program in New York.
Photo courtesy Ballet Memphis

Ballet Memphis

The Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse
Hunter College

New York, New York

April 19, 2001

Reviewed by Doris Hering

The word Memphis must be some sort of magnet, for the company’s twenty-five members are all unique. They radiate a genuine love for dance and have the technical assurance to express that love. About 70 percent of the dancers have been with the company two years or less. Clearly Artistic Director Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Associate Director Karl Condon, and Ballet Mistress Tamara Hoffman have a strong, shared vision that they convey effectively.

Titled “Postcards from Memphis,” the program consisted of works by contemporary choreographers. On the whole, they displayed more complexity than depth.

The setting of Mark Godden’s Angels in the Architecture was intriguing. Devised by designers Paul Daigle and Godden, it consisted of straight-backed Shaker chairs suspended at either side of the stage, plus Shaker brooms hanging along the back.

Six men standing deep upstage watched their female partners weave around the brooms. Subsequently unhitched, the brooms became part of the tricky partnering. One irritating aspect of the piece, however, was its use of Copland’s radiant score Appalachian Spring. As the broom dancing was subsequently replaced by patterns with the chairs, Martha Graham’s own imagery naturally came to mind, diminishing all else with its simple grandeur. At one point Godden even resorted to Graham’s joyful gesture of bouncing her fingertips on her shoulders.

The company planned to stage two excerpts from Trey McIntyre’s Memphis, but dancer Dawn Fay’s injury meant that they could present only one. It was “The Thrill Is Gone,” performed by Maria-Angeles Llamas and Andrew Allagree. Along a lonely levee designed by Thomas Boyd, they were caught in an indolent sweep of passion. The dance fairly dripped with atmosphere, beautifully sustained by its interpreters.

McIntyre comes up with interesting, danceworthy ideas for his ballets, and every so often his images resonate with originality. One of these images turned up in the opening of his four-part Second Before the Ground. In it, Joseph Jefferies, dancing with Stephanie Hom, tenderly placed his cheek on the small of her back as she held an arabesque?and an elegant arabesque it was. Danced to an African suite interpreted by the Kronos Quartet, the work ranged from this level of sensitivity to mere busy-ness.

Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith, known for their daring, often slapstick ventures, set George and Betty’s House on Jefferies, Llamas, and Tom Barber. The three cavorted through its domestic antics with relish and keen timing, but the intentionally cartoon-like style seemed out of sync with the rest of the program. This was, however, a minor caveat in an afternoon of glowing dance.