Hell's Kitchen Dance

Hell's Kitchen Dance
Center for the Arts, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
June 8-11, 2006
Reviewed by Steve Sucato


When Mikhail Baryshnikov's latest project, Hell's Kitchen Dance, premiered in Buffalo, it was clear from the outset that it had attracted some of the finest young talent around. Named after the site of Baryshnikov's new arts center in New York City, Hell's Kitchen Dance is every bit as fresh-faced as his state-of the-art facility. A dozen young dancers, along with dancer/choreographer Aszure Barton and Baryshnikov, brought to the production's three world premieres a sense of vitality, whimsy, and emotional depth.

In Barton's Over/Come, the shrill sound of a woman's scream set 13 dancers (including Barton) strolling across the stage with the look of a Gap commercial. The dancers shot blank stares at one another and the audience, and every so often one of them was overcome by a fit of twitchy movement. Set to a variety of crooner-like music, Barton's sleek, modern choreography, sprinkled with juxtaposition and subtle humor, had a flop-n-drop style to it. A highlight was a lustful, spitfire solo by dancer Ariel Freedman.

The second work, Benjamin Millepied's Years Later, was slow to develop due to a somewhat dry opening video sequence of Baryshnikov dancing on a beach (a poor substitution for the real thing). The piece eventually won the audience over with Baryshnikov's live dancing of Millepied's flowing, gesture-infused choreography. The work balanced poignancy with a tongue-in-cheek approach to losing one's youth, as Baryshnikov danced side-by-side with and toyed with life-size video projections of himself as a young dancer.

The climax of the performance was Barton's Come In, set to composer Vladimir Martynov's moving chamber music of the same name. Like its title, the group work was inviting. A tender and stylized version of Barton's movement in Over/Come, the piece unfolded with subtle beauty and left one caught in a mesmerizing wake. Come In showed Barton as a choreographer to be reckoned with, one evoking the breadth and musicality of Mark Morris and the longing of Paul Taylor. The company performed with mature skill, including an elegant solo danced by William Briscoe, and an inspired Baryshnikov reclaimed some of his performance glory of old, further perpetuating his uncanny allure and greatness. See www.baryshnikovdancefoundation.org.

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