Festa Barocca at Alvin Ailey

(photo, of Vernard J. Gilmore and Antonio Douthit, by Andrea Mohin from NYTimes)

So Sir Alastair called Festa Barocca “rubbish”!

I didn’t really know what to think of it, to be honest (which is why it’s taken me so long to write about). I found it oddly intriguing and very different from his (choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti’s) other work that I’ve seen, Oltremare. That piece made perfect sense and was clear in what it was trying to express: the fear, sadness, and longing of poor immigrants bound for the New World. This wasn’t so clear.

The whole piece is set to Handel’s classical Baroque music, but the movement is extremely varied, encompassing ballet, Argentine Tango, African — a hodge-podge, and with styling that looked at times Asian (like the beautifully flexed wrists), Egyptian (the iconic “King Tut”-esque Cleopatra arms), and even some styling that reminded me of the movie Pulp Fiction (with the bandit eyes — where Uma Thurman and John Travolta are dancing, extending elbows outward, arms turned down, circling their eyes with their fingers — remember that?)

There was definitely a lot of humor, and Hope Boykin, whose enchanting solos frame the piece, smiles out at the audience a lot, kind of indicating she is taking us on a wild ride. I couldn’t really tell, though, if Bigonzetti was making fun of Baroque music, or if he was trying to expand our assumptions about how it could be used for dance. Don’t think I’d ever have thought of putting African to Handel. Or, if Baroque music is defined as representing the “perfect order” of the universe, of “avoiding trivialities as well as willful eccentricities,” then maybe he is playing with the definition of Baroque music itself.

By the way, Antonio Douthit (right in pic above) and Jamar Roberts I thought were the best in the ensemble parts. Jamar really threw himself into it full out and made the most of every little movement detail. And Antonio is one of those unbelievable dancers who seems to be able to excel at both ballet and African. Have I said that before here? Sorry if I have; I honestly forget what I’ve tweeted and what I’ve blogged. He has these gorgeously high extensions that he holds so well and he’s graceful and feathery, but then he can be so rhythmic with those beautifully snaky full body-undulations as well.

The dance is comprised of several ensemble parts, a couple of solos, and a couple duets that seemed by turns sexy, mysterious, and kind of violent. At points, it seemed like the men were casting a spell on the women, at other places it seemed the women became the mens’ puppeteers, like when the women would raise their legs to their partners’ faces or necks, gripping with their toes, kind of teasing them as they circled their feet about, head or throat attached, round and round, and then harshly pushing them away.

Macaulay seemed peeved because such movement (which he amusingly calls “acrobatic foot fetishism”) didn’t seem to fit the Italian lyrics of the Handel songs. I didn’t know those lyrics, but, assuming the translation in his article is correct, it is rather interesting how a husband’s singing “Where are you? Come, beloved, to console my spirit” to his wife (who doesn’t yet know he’s dead) correlates with a dancer throttling her partner’s throat with her foot. Either an unusual reinterpretation, or Bigonzetti is trying to throw in some comedy with the duets as well (which generally seemed more serious), or else he, like many choreographers, is more interested in putting movement to rhythms than actual words.

In the end I’m not sure what to make of it. I loved the dancers, as always. I’m not sure I could ever be dissatisfied watching them do anything. I’m interested to hear what others make of this piece though. They don’t yet have any of it up on YouTube, but let me know if you see it live.

Oh, and costumes (by Marc Happel) were gorgeous. Men and women both wore long, brightly-colored flowing skirts in the ensemble pieces, donning more form-fitting garb for the intricate pas de deux.

(Hope Boykin in solo, above; below, Gwynenn Taylor Jones and Clifton Brown in first duet; photos by Steve Vaccariello)

3 Comments

  1. I saw the piece last weekend and had a similar reaction…not really sure what to make of it. I wouldn’t exactly call it “rubbish,” but I didn’t particularly like or think that it fit cohesively together. I actually found my eyes glazing over and just enjoying the fabulous mess of colors moving around rather than the actual dancing.

  2. I loved it.

  3. I loved it.

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