I know I will be bored out of my mind come August, but right now with ABT and NYCB in season, the Judson Movement Research Festival underway, Alvin Ailey’s decision to have a week at Brooklyn Academy of Music in celebration of their 50th anniversary year, and the start of So You Think You Can Dance, I’m throughly exhausted! Why does everything have to happen at once?
After the fiasco of Tuesday afternoon, I spent a wonderful night at NYCBallet — one of the best I’ve had. The program was “Here and Now” and centered on the newest works on the company’s rep, a kind of celebration of the 21st Century in ballet thus far. My main reason for going was the premier of a new ballet by Alexei Ratmansky, but the whole evening was magical, likely in part because I sat up front, very close to the stage, my favorite little perch
(photo by Paul Kolnick, from NYTimes)
I really liked the new Ratmansky, titled “Concerto DSCH,” and set to music by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose scores Ratmansky often uses. To be honest, I wish I could see a new work, especially an abstract one, a few times before writing about it, because, as I realized upon re-viewing “Oltremare” here and “Unfold” at Alvin Ailey, you miss so much the first time around just trying to take it all in. You need repeated viewings to get things right and to get a fuller sense of the work. That’s why film critics see the films they review three, four, and five times. But that’s not possible with dance because each performance is so expensive to produce. Anyway, as I feel like I should always say upon seeing a new piece, these are my first impressions but they may well change completely or become more nuanced on repeated viewings.
The musical score Ratmansky used here was very upbeat and lively and, made in 1957 for Shostakovich’s young son, Maxim, “displays the composer’s optimist energy after the repressions of the Stalinist era,” as the program notes say. The optimism and lightness was very evident, as there didn’t seem to be a downbeat turn the whole way through — either in the dance or the music. The dancers are all dressed in what appear to be 19th Century-style bathing suits, and they kind of frolic with each other on what I imagine to be a beach. There’s a corps who kind of chooses a main dancer to follow, cutely mimicking his or her every move. One threesome — danced by the always brimming over with virtuosity Ashley Bouder, one of my NYCB favorites Joaquin De Luz (one of the few who manages to combine spectacular athleticism with artistry), and the charismatic Gonzalo Garcia — is particularly playful as the dancers literally bounce off of each other, each lifting and tossing one another — including Ashley who did quite well getting the much larger and muscly Garcia off the ground. Soon, a slightly softer, slower section ensues, including a sweet duet by the in-love Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied. The threesome return, each trying to outdo the other in a competition-like series of bravura, jump- and turn-heavy solos. And, after another couple of duets by the lovers, the whole thing, all characters included, comes to a happy climax, ending with this crazy, hilarious, almost statue-like lift by the threesome at the front of the stage, Joaquin on top of the other two, holding a finger up in the air, as if to say either “wait a minute” or, as Philip interpreted, “I’m number one.” In all, the ballet’s not tremendously profound but it is great fun and brings home how exciting sheer kinetic energy and virtuosity can be. It kind of reminded me of Jorma Elo’s “Slice to Sharp” made on the company earlier, but with more of a story-line. I definitely want to see it again.
Also on the program was Peter Martins’s “River of Light,” 10 years old and the oldest of these ballets, which I’d never seen before. I found it fantastically weird, with three pairs of dancers, each pair comprised of one male one female, all in simple solid-colored unitards, one couple in red, one in white, and one in black. The dancers made various geometric-looking shapes with each other, performing very difficult-looking lifts (one of the dancers fell at one point, but didn’t seem to be hurt). The dancers put so much energy into the piece, regardless of the geometric focus, there was a kind of passionate abandon to it as well. The score was composed by Charles Wuorinen (who was the youngest composer to have won the Pulitzer), and Martins choreographed the ballet for him 10 years ago as a 60th birthday present. Wuorinen returned this year, now his 70th birthday, to conduct the piece, which was really cool. Sweet tribute.
(photo by Paul Kolnick, from NYCB website)
I realized throughout the night I am really beginning to like Sterling Hyltin. She was in the Martins as well as Wheeldon’s “Rococo Variations,” which I’d seen before and wrote about earlier, here. Sitting so up close you can really focus on the dancers, and I realized how perfect her form always is. Even if her back leg isn’t up as high in an arabesque as the other dancer who often shared the stage with her Tuesday night (Sara Mearns), her lines are perfectly clear, and she has so much energy combined with fluidity. Her arms are so graceful. It’s not always about who can lift their leg the highest. And her feet are really beautiful — I forgot what it’s called (but know it has a name; one of my teachers told me), but she has turned-out ankles that give her legs so much gorgeous shaping. What is that called?…
Anyway, I also appreciated this time around the intricate patterned footwork in “Rococo Variations,” which I think I’d overlooked the first time I saw it. It’s a sweet ballet for two couples but it has a lot of variation in the steps that is, as the woman sitting next to me remarked, dizzyingly engrossing.
Finally, Oltremare, which premiered last season and which I wrote about here grew on me. This modern-style ballet contains some of the most difficult lifts I think I’ve ever seen, and the dancers perform them brilliantly. And talk about raw emotion and angst. The dancers perfectly convey the experience of leaving one’s country and becoming an immigrant in another. It makes me think of the beginning of Middlesex, when all the main characters are boarding the ship to flee the burning of Smyrna and come to the new world, with all of the horror of what they’d just experienced, sadness and anger at being displaced, and fear and trepidation for what the future will bring. I still think Oltremare is a tiny bit too one-note, and the mid-section still stood out to me as awkward and somewhat cartoonish where they’re all folk dancing, but so fast and furiously that it looks like they’re on Speed. But I also realized on this viewing that Bigonzetti may have wanted it this way; that he was trying to convey that they’re all trying so very hard to keep their pasts, their culture, that they’re trying so hard to be happy about this new life, that they’re on overdrive. I liked Maria Kowroski much better this time. I love the way she used her legs like tentacles to keep her partner at bay. Those legs never end — she’s like a spider!
(Paul Kolnick picture taken from Oberon’s Grove)
And last night I went to see Alvin Ailey at BAM. They’re not normally in season — and it was really odd seeing them in the midst of all the ballets! — but they’re having a special week in Brooklyn in honor of their 50th Anniversary celebrations going on all throughout the year.
(photo of Golden Section by Paul Kolnick)
I’d seen all the works on the program before: Twyla Tharp’s very 80’s hugely energetic, crazy lift-heavy “Golden Section”; Robert Battle’s beautifully haunting, otherworldly “Unfold” which, as I said, really grew on me even more (here’s a short video excerpt); Camille A. Brown’s cute, humorous “The Groove to Nobody’s Business” which makes me giggle (and whose first part reminds me of Fat Albert) more each time I see it; and of course the classic “Revelations” which I can’t count how many times I’ve seen but seem to see something new every time.
(photo of Revelations, by Paul Kolnick)
I also love listening to the audience react, and, as I said in a comment on my previous post about audience interactions, the audience here was vocal throughout the entire thing. They clapped and shouted “yeah!” not only during moments when dancers performed an amazing feat — like the jetes in Sinner Man and Alicia Graf’s beautiful turning develope in Fix Me Jesus — but just at the start of a section with which they were familiar, when the dancers at times hadn’t even appeared on stage yet. They were just cheering because they knew what was coming and had seen it before and been moved. The audience overall seemed so into the dancing. They cheered and hooted wildly after every piece and gave a standing ovation at the end. The company is only in NY through the end of the week, so if you’re here and want to see this or the other program — which includes a revival of “Masekela Language,” Mr. Ailey’s work about apartheid, go here for tickets. Or, for more info about the dances, call 212-514-0010 and press the appropriate buttons.