James Sewell Ballet

October 16, 2007

James Sewell Ballet

The Joyce Theater, NYC

October 16–21, 2007

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

This concert started out weak and ended strong. James Sewell’s opening solo had simple hand and arm movements that were reminiscent of a clock. They expanded into space, but never went beyond what looked like a college assignment. I thought of all the great male solos I’d seen by people like Ohad Naharin, David Dorfman, Rennie Harris, but this didn’t come close. At one point Sewell was doing triplets while working his left elbow in sharp moves and his whole right side was doing nice big arcing movements. He gets a gold star for coordination, but a zero for digging into oneself the way you want a solo to do. Kinetic Head simply was kinetic only in the brain.

    The following group piece, Schoenberg Serenade, also suffered from the clock syndrome (as well as the always-facing-front syndrome). Most of the movements seemed mechanical, fragmented, rather than heartfelt. Granted, this atonal music is difficult to hit your stride in.

    Where Sewell really came into his own as a choreographer was in Opera Moves, a pastiche of arias old and new. With this music, he felt his own human voice, and parts of the piece ached with humanness, while other sparkled with wit. It opens with all nine dancers lying on the floor, and Penelope Freeh (a bold, smart, great dancer) starts to levitate (many hands are lifting her). This whole first section, to a Wagner song, seems to be about love but possibly also about death. The second song, from Faust, is more clearly about love, in which Sally Rousse waxed rhapsodic, ecstatic in dim light.

    A real surprise happens when dancer Emily Tyra, a tall languid blonde, starts singing Kurt Weill’s “Lonely House” and what a gorgeous voice came out of her—while dancing! (Broadway, watch out for this girl.) Justin Leaf was magnificently love sick in a Bizet song, alternating between caving in with despair and thrusting himself off balance.  And Sally Rousse was very funny as an hyper-vain ballet diva. In the end, the whole company was onstage, moving slow and in friezes. It was one of those moments where funny mixed with sad in a wistful way. This was Sewell at his best.