Benjamin Millepied’s New Piece: Deeply Satisfying

May 13, 2009

Gorgeously dark and ominous, Quasi Una Fantasia moves along like some viscous liquid. It’s both a relief and a triumph to see a piece by New York City Ballet that is not sunny or courteous or ingratiating in any way.

    The mood is as consistent as a dream. The partnering is complex but not ostentatiously so. The thinning and thickenings of the group of 20 are satisfying to follow. The Górecki music (which furnished the bad title as well as the impetus for the whole dance) creeps up on you, and Millepied keeps pace with it beautifully. Not for one second do you wish he would do something else to that slowly spreading shadow. And when the music speeds up in the last section, the choreography shoots through the space but miraculously keeps tethered to its original intent.

    Yes there are the open-bent-leg lifts that remind one of Wheeldon, and a girl being dropped into a slumping first-position-plié that reminds one of Forsythe. And there is even a section where the men turn the women like propellers that reminds me of Trisha Brown’s trio for Paris Opera Ballet (click here for my rapturous blog on that). But the organic flow and the strange quality of the heaviness are unique to this piece.There are times when Janie Taylor goes limp, reaching the bottom of despair, held together by Jared Angle, that are highly un-chic in ballet. (Millepied said in an interview that he based some of the choreography on the dancers around him. I am guessing that this wobbly woebegone section for Janie Taylor is based on her real-life trials of the last three years—you‘ll know what I mean when you get your July issue of Dance Magazine.) And yet here, with the inter-change of the two couples (the other couple is Rebecca Krohn and Sébastien Marcovici) and the constantly intermeshing groups framing them, it feels so right.

    For a dash of spice, there is a short little frisson of sharp angles and about-faces for Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar that made me sit up on the edge of my seat.

    And the ending with the whole group has its own about-face that had me sighing.

    I’ll admit I did not expect this great a piece from Millepied. I had admired his knack for inventive partnering and for creating a community a la Jerome Robbins (see my review from last season). But I didn’t think he had his own voice. Quasi Una Fantasia has proved me wrong. With its daring choice of music, willingness to dig deep into the human psyche, and sure sense of choreographic flow, it’s a total work of art.