Oltremare


(photos by Paul Kolnick, top: Amar Ramasar and Tiler Peck; bottom Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle, in “Oltremare”)

Tonight (or, seeing as how it’s 2:00 a.m., last night rather) was the world premiere of a new ballet by Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti at New York City Ballet. The dancers did a spectacular job with some very difficult-looking choreography. Anyway, first things first: my evening got off to a very excited start, as I sat next to Judith Jamison, legendary Alvin Ailey dancer and now artistic director of that company, my favorite (if it wasn’t clear from all of my December posts.) I know I may sound like a goof sometimes, but sitting beside a giant like her was just such a thrill. Of course I was too shy to say anything to her :)

So, Oltremare. The program notes state that the name of the ballet translates to “beyond the sea” and is intended to explore the feelings people have upon leaving their homeland for a new country: sadness, excitement, fear of the unknown. The ballet, very modern and without pointe shoes, began with several dancers, all dressed in early 20th Century clothing reminiscent of “Little House on the Prairie,” and all bearing large, burdensome suitcases. They entered the stage in a line, as if they’d just disembarked a boat. The music at this point was minimal and consisted only of a beating sound. They suddenly dropped the suitcases, collapsed on top of them, exhausted, and made kicking and pushing motions in each direction as if fighting the urge to return to the boat. But they picked themselves up and forged ahead.

(all headshots by Paul Kolnik; above Georgina Pazcoguin)

After their initial trek across stage, the dancers returned, without suitcases, and began performing a series of very dramatic duets full of mixed emotions. Georgina Pazcoguin completely blew me away. She danced with such passion and the intensity of her internal conflict was made clear with every facial expression and every detailed movement she made. She struggled savagely against her first partner, Jason Fowler, he scooping her up as she lashed out, fighting him, punching out at the air around her, then hurling herself at him in anger, forcing him to catch her in mid-air.

Another pas de deux between Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar ensued, this one slightly more mild, conveying less anger but more sorrow, although many of the lifts and movements were very similar to those in the first duet.

(above, Andrew Veyette)

Some ensemble dancing and a series of solos followed. And it was here where Andrew Veyette, a new favorite of mine, completely blew me away. He had a crazy hard solo replete with insane leg-switching barrel turns, corkscrew jumps, and multiple fouette turns and pirouettes, and he pulled if off like it was absolutely nothing! So excellent for him! The movement was all very modern, very grounded with a lot of steps emphasizing heel over toe, and flexed hands and feet. He seemed a natural for this kind of vocabulary. (I also saw him dance parts of Jerome Robbins’s Opus Jazz at the Guggenheim on Sunday — which I’ll blog about soon — and thought the same thing; he is a modern mover). Amar Ramasar impressed me in this respect as well.

A few more pas de deux followed, including one between the amazing Georgina and Andrew. I don’t know if it was intentional, but this one looked more fraught with sexual tension. It actually reminded me of the novel “Middlesex,” where characters Lefty and Desdemona have just escaped the burning of Smyrna, their homeland, and caught the boat to New York. They are siblings but they are also in love and, horrified and upset as they are about having to flee their country, they use the anonymity of ship and then the New World to re-define themselves as husband and wife, to Desdemona’s never-ending shame.

In another duet, danced by Tyler Angle and Maria Kowroski, the man seemed grieved at the woman’s despondency. They had some very difficult lifts, where he, lying on the ground, had to hold her up, then roll over her and whip her up and over himself repeatedly. I wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be suicidal and he was trying to shake her out of it or what.

But regardless, my main problem was the choreography. The mood of all the pas de deux seemed too one-note, and, since the story begins and ends with the same duet — that between Georgina and Jason — the narrative as a whole didn’t really seem to progress. Each duet was either full of anger or sorrow or both; and the movement in all of them, except for the Angle / Kowroski, seemed very similar. The mood and choreography of the ensemble parts was varied, but didn’t always make sense to me. At one point, it appears that the dancers are having some kind of happy square-dance-like hoe-down. If this is meant to convey that they are coming to peace with their new home, then fine, but the movement at times was so overly fast and choppy it looked almost cartoonish. So, it seemed like a grotesque, distorted version of a western folk dance. At other points I saw echoes of West Side Story, with the male bravado and the female swooning. American but a bit anachronistic. The music was varied as well, with some parts more fluid, others more intentionally discordant, as if symbolizing difficulty, unrest perhaps, basically that something was just “off” in this new home.

These are my first impressions; I definitely want to see it again. The dancing was simply superb. As is usual for openings, the choreographer was there as was music composer Bruno Moretti, and they took bows with the dancers and signed autographs out on the (freezing) Plaza afterward. Premieres always make for a fun night! This program will repeat several times throughout the winter season; go here for the schedule.

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