THE TULSA BALLET AT THE JOYCE: DANCES FROM THE (HEART)LAND

Photo by Christopher Jean-Richard, from the Joyce website.

Here is another take on Tulsa, written by my friend, the writer and critic, Christopher Atamian:

The Tulsa Ballet is a wonderful revelation, a group of exquisitely trained dancers with the ability to perform a wide variety of dances from different lexicons.  Indeed, it would be hard to pick two pieces more dissimilar than Kenneth MacMillan’s 1974 Elite Syncopations and Nacho Duato’s 1996 Por Vos Muero.

Macmillan’s fun and lively ballet was performed with evident brio by the Tulsa dancers. If you could survive going blind from Ian’s Spurling’s remarkably bright costumes (think Pucci meets the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) and overlook the fact that the stage sometimes looked too busy with too many dancers, then you were in for a real treat. The dancers performed the often eccentric arm movements and angled lifts, as well as the elements of mimicry and farce to perfection: the final group ensemble piece was bold and fast-paced. The “Bethena Waltz” pas-de-deux between Alfonso Martín and Karina Gonzalez  was particularly enjoyable as were sections with the lithe and elegant Kate Oderkirk. I don’t particularly like Joplin’s Ragtime, to which a large part of the ballet is set, so the fact that I enjoyed this piece was all the more to the Tulsa Ballet’s credit-there was something truly odd and exhilarating about the entire presentation.

Duato’s Por Vos Muero is sensuous and romantic whereas Elite Syncopations is more syncopated and humorous; the former is European in tone and musical selection while the latter is set to just about the most American music there is; MacMillan’s ballet is modern in atmosphere while Muero is medieval with elements of postmodern poetic recitation.  Again, the Tulsa dancers could have benefited from some more inspired costuming.  The women’s blue and brown dresses and bustles may have reflected historical Spanish fashion, but at times they also hindered our appreciation of the performers’ movement; the other contrasting semi-naked flesh-colored costumes seemed flimsy.  Por Vos Muero is set to exquisite 15th and 16th century Spanish music and illustrates a 16th century poem by Garcilosa de Vega, an extended love ode to an unnamed woman read here by the Spanish actor and pop star Miguel Bosé. The movement in Por Vos Muero mixes elements of Spanish court dance with a contemporary idiom developed by Duato which includes two-footed jumps, circular gestures of arms and legs, and the use of masks in one scene. When the male dancers come out in capes swinging incense censers, the entire theater becomes a dreamlike dominion, an oil painting come exquisitely to life. The dancers all acquitted themselves beautifully. Alfonso Martín, Karina Gonzalez and Ricardo Graziano were particularly stunning. The former two are powerful dancers that ally strength, grace and speed.

The last verses of Por Vos Muero are a stirring avowal of the heart:

I confess to owing all that I have to you

For you I was born, for you I am alive

For you I have to die, and for you I die.

By the time the two Tulsa dancers rush to the back of the stage and pose against a black background some of the audience members are also ready to symbolically die from pleasure, if not love.

As an endnote, along with a few other critics I was also disappointed by the final work, Korean choreographer Young Soon Hue’s This Is Your Life.  The piece begins with a staging of the 50’s TV show of the same name. After briefly being introduced to the show’s characters, the audience is treated to small vignettes illustrating their lives-the yearnings of their hearts and minds.  The actual dancing is quite good and some of the choreography engaging, but the piece feels disjointed and bland; at other times it looks like a strange mixture of Hairspray, Grease and West Side Story, without the excitement of any of the three. And yes, the orange-haired ridiculously effeminate hairdresser does border on the offensive. In fact many of the characters come off as stereotypes-the Chinese boy who wanted to be an actor but whose parents forced him to go into business; the girl with the Casanova boyfriend who must also be a bit short on self-respect, etc… More puzzling though, why the artistic director chose this particular piece to follow on the (literal!) heels of such fine works by MacMillan and Duato.  But no matter-the evening was fun, well-danced and enjoyable.  We hope to see the Tulsa Ballet again at the Joyce next summer.

Comments are closed