Ballet Memphis

April 3, 2007

Ballet Memphis
The Joyce, NYC

April 3–8, 2007

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

On their first visit to The Joyce, Ballet Memphis brought two all-contemporary programs danced by a small group of excellent dancers. The manic pace of Trey McIntyre’s work contrasted nicely with the spare, narrative dances of Julia Adam. Thaddeus Davis provided the urban-inflected Mercurial Balance as the conclusion of both programs. The dancing was dominated by Dawn Fay, an étoile with a fierce attack.

In “Program A,” McIntyre’s The Naughty Boy for nine dancers stuffed too many steps into 20 minutes of Mozart. The energy was high and the partnering was inventive. Dawn Fay as a busybody Cupid wore black bangs, a plaid skating skirt, and—for a dollop of extra cuteness—a coonskin cap. At one point, the curtain was pulled back to reveal a single couple in a more tender mood. But the four couples soon reverted to their leggy rush hour antics.

In Adam’s A Curtain of Green (based on a story by Eudora Welty), Dawn Fay makes an about-face. Instead of looking cute and smug, she wears a deeply knowing expression. Seated in a chair, she repeats a series of gestures facing an upstage corner. A man walks in, reaches up, falls face first. She steps over him, touches him, squats. A second man enters, traces something on the floor. The first man exits. Eventually she lifts her arm as though to strike the second man, again and again. For those of us who hadn’t read the story, it was hard to detect the relationship between the characters. But the piece exerted a pull, an intrigue, that kept us watching. The haunting, softly building music by Philip Glass enveloped the stage in gentle mystery.

In “Program B,” McIntyre’s In Dreams was more grounded than Naughty Boy. The five dancers, began with zombie-like side-to-side shifting of the arms. Here again, Dawn Fay was a commanding presence. Whether doing little skips close to the ground, rising in a lift, or sharply turning her head, her life-or-death dancing gives the piece a focus.

Adam’s The Awakening opened on a bleak beach scene, with one woman lying down upstage. Was she resting, dead, sun bathing? Others strolled in, one by one, some holding a parasol. Their doll-like moves—parallel bent arms held stiffly—were softened only by the Chopin piano recordings. The performers stared straight ahead, even when kissing or being kissed. Behind the beautifully lit parasols, that’s where the action happened. Adam’s sense of restraint was not as effective here as in Curtain, perhaps because her characters seemed undifferentiated.

Mercurial Balance by Thaddeus Davis starts with two poets onstage announcing that this is about “civil war at home.” There is something authentic street about these guys, but their verses are devoid of racial politics—rap lite. The first solo for a woman is jagged, full of sudden contractions and disjointedness. When the poets return and ask, “Can a woman love two men,” there’s a—guess what—trio with a woman and two men. The highlight of the dance is red-headed Crystal Brothers in a sassy solo in which she does a hip-hop/hop-scotch step that breaks into grand jetés. At the end, all the dancers all look up, reach up, and shake their heads—a wobbly “yes” for an uncertain generation in a hectic time.