Spoleto Festival

July 3, 2009

Spoleto Festival (Festival dei 2Mondi)
Teatro Nuovo and Teatro Romano

Spoleto, Italy

July 3–6, 2009

Reviewed by Wendy Perron


Edwaard Liang, Teresa Reichlen, Adrian Danchig-Waring, and Maria Kowroski in the first half of Wheeldon’s
After the Rain. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Spoleto.


Alessandra Ferri, new director of dance of the interdisciplinary Spoleto Festival, organized three programs of international significance. One program, Choreographing Today, gathered works by three of the most well-known ballet choreographers alive: Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, and Wayne McGregor. Another presented Pina Bausch’s company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, newly stunned by news of her death, in the joyous Bamboo Blues. The third paid tribute to Jerome Robbins, who loved Spoleto, both the festival and the ancient town. It included two of his Chopin ballets (played beautifully on piano by Cameron Grant) and a new duet by Italian choreographer Luca Vegetti. (As an invited guest of the festival, I moderated a pre-performance talk.)

The program of Ratmansky to Wheeldon to McGregor, held in the outdoor arena of Teatro Romano, traveled from innocent to sophisticated to jaded. Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons gives off the flavor of an old-world village, depicting various incidents, romances, and rituals. Rebecca Krohn seems to have a snitfit, Jenifer Ringer emerges from a group of three men in wonder, and Wendy Whelan stoops to pick flowers. Several dancers take a bow in the middle of the piece. It doesn’t quite add up (maybe if you know the lyrics to the Russian songs by Desyatnikov, it does), and the unflattering color-block dresses don’t help. But the men tear through their sections, giving the piece a thrust, and the mood changes set up a nicely shifting rhythm.

The rarely seen first half of Wheeldon’s sextet After the Rain is more dramatic than I remember. At times the three women bourrée in parallel as they drag the men to the ominous sounds of Arvo Pärt. In a brilliant transition from the first half to the second, Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall, now wearing nearly nude leotards, return to the stage with a big loping circle while the other four exit. They settle into stillness before performing the celebrated duet that is the second half. Whelan, long hair flowing, is glorious in the celestial lifts and tender gestures, like when she slips her fingertips over Hall’s shoulders from behind. On the second night, when they weren’t worried about slipping on a wet stage, Hall made a secure and attentive partner in the Jock Soto role.

The hyper-aggressive Erazor, from Wayne McGregor/Random Dance, had the advantage in this big open space of being framed by fluorescent lights on the ground. Driven by adolescent rage, the work had some pretty nasty moments. One person might plant a kiss on another’s face and then shove that person or just walk away. Without the infusion of elegance that The Royal Ballet brings to McGregor’s work (judging from their breathtaking performance of Chroma at the Kennedy Center recently), Erazor seemed locked into a kind of mean-spiritedness. I report dutifully that the audience loved it.

Bausch’s Bamboo Blues, held in the smaller Teatro Nuovo, overflows with an exuberant magic—at least the first half. Each solo is sumptuous in its urgency, and each interaction brims with flirtation and inventiveness. The one dark moment, though, is powerful: A man runs in a circle at top speed with a woman jostling on his back. It’s impossible to tell from her screams whether she is thrilled or terrified. In another daredevil section, a woman dashes over a chair and flings herself at a guy halfway across the stage; he catches her and they topple to the floor. This, like other episodes, happens over and over. There is the sense that they can’t get enough of something—sex, dance, challenging the person who is there for you?

At the end, when the 16 dancers joined hands for a bow and walked forward, you could see their mindset shift to the reality at hand: Ms. Bausch was no longer with them. Their faces were suddenly drained of pleasure, and they drew even closer together during the standing ovations.

The Robbins tribute was rained out of the Teatro Romano and got squeezed into the much smaller Teatro Nuovo—with a raked stage and no tech time. In fact New York City Ballet’s dancers were still rehearsing onstage with ballet mistress Christine Redpath when the audience filed in. (Dress rehearsal, Italian style, I guess.) Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia gave a spirited rendition of Robbins’ charming Other Dances. She, light and playful with a mischievous sense of timing, seamlessly glided from wandering and wondering to a balancé—very Robbins. He relished the twist-stomps and other folk steps.

In the Night
was a bit rougher, but all six dancers rose to the occasion. Jenifer Ringer softly yielded to Amar Ramasar; even the way she stood and leaned toward him was ravishing. Maria Kowroski and Jonathan Stafford were proud as the second, slightly military pas de deux. Wendy Whelan threw a good fit when Jared Angle carried her in the third dramatic duet. There is a moment I never saw before: At the end, after all six spent about five seconds switching partners, they each took a lovely breath of contentment before waltzing off with their own chosen one.

Luca Veggetti, who claims Robbins as an influence, makes intensely interior dances. In a neat programming choice, his new duet followed a showing of Passage for Two, the film (produced by Sean Suozzi and Ellen Bar and starring Craig Hall and Rachel Rutherford, all from NYCB) based on a duet from Robbins’ Opus Jazz. Veggetti’s premiere, Upon a Ground, echoed the alternation of attraction and ambivalence that marks that duet. His movement had some precarious spider crouches that were somehow alluring. But the two dancers, Ramasar and Georgina Pazcoguin, looked at the ground a lot, which undermined any sense of relationship. Veggetti too had to direct his last run-through with audience looking on, which is hardly ideal for showing a premiere. I look forward to seeing this duet under more civilized circumstances.

Preceding the tribute, sculptor Robin Heidi Kennedy unveiled her new statue of Robbins on the terrace of the theater (which is actually called the Robbins Terrace because of Kennedy’s previous sculptures of Robbins’ dances that live there). Robbins had premiered several pieces here and called Spoleto his paradise. Various officials were on hand to admire the statue and to honor Robbins and his work. The statue has his arms spread out as though he is about to snap his fingers at the Dance at the Gym.

All of the above contributed to the feeling of excitement that Spoleto, Italy, is back on the dance map, and Alessandra Ferri will continue to program major events.